Tinnitus: You hear what you eat
I used to drink. A glass of red wine here. A dollop of whiskey here. And while I never experienced a hangover, I always moaned and wallowed in bouts of non-stop, make-me-go-crazy ear ringing.
It wasn’t until I became an editor here at Healthy Hearing when I learned the ringing was tinnitus.
I’ve long since stopped drinking and have learned that imbibing the booze was the main culprit of my tinnitus. For many people, alcohol and drugs, especially caffeine, are major contributors to that oh-so-annoying, oh-please-just-make-it-stop ringing/buzzing/whirling sensation the medical community alike, from audiologists and ENT specialists to doctors and hearing instrument specialists, doesn’t know exactly just what the cause is.
Science (hooray for science!) does point us toward the direction, in some cases, toward nutrition, indicating that what we put in our body – alcohol in my case, caffeine in others, salt and fat or sugar in still others – has a major effect on whether or not we experience the symptoms of tinnitus and how severe those symptoms are.
In a June 2006 edition of Tinnitus Today, Barbara Tabachnick, American Tinnitus Association associate director editor summed up the way our bodies react to food and create adverse responses the best (at least in my opinion as it pertained to this article).
She wrote: “All food – from organic carrots to highly processed hotdogs – is made up of complex chemicals that our digestive system breaks down into molecules for energy and nutrition. If everything we eat matches up to everything we need to run our bodies, and if our bodies are able to absorb the needed nutrients, then ideally we’re well nourished. If, however, we have sensitivity to something we eat, of if illness keeps us from using the nutrients correctly, or if we simply don’t eat nutrient-rich foods, then chemical reactions take place that can make us feel unwell.”
That might seem like a big pill to swallow, but it boils down to this: Our bodies are machines made up by our DNA. Our DNA is very specific and differs for every single person. Being such, each body reacts differently to food. One person might react poorly to one food or, in my case drink, while another person might be fine. A glass of red wine doesn't cause my husband tinnitus but it definitely brings on the buzzing for me. Why does this happen? Because of the chemical reactions happening at the cellular levels in our bodies.
But how can you tell what’s causing your tinnitus at that cellular level?
The best way to calculate if a food is causing you an issue is by keeping a food diary. I know that can sound laborious, but it’s definitely worth the time, pen and paper (there are, as with everything, also apps for that). As the British Tinnitus Organization (BTO) suggests, “the diary may have to be detailed, specifying what type of meat, vegetable, cheese, fish and so on was consumed, as on particular type of vegetable, for example, may aggravate the tinnitus, where others have no effect.”
BTO continues to offer the advice that a food should be avoided for a period of seven days. Your body should be challenged by reintroducing that food, withdrawing it, re-challenging it, and withdrawing it again to see it the tinnitus presents itself again.
The thing is, you have to take all of the aforementioned words you just read with a grain of salt (salt: another factor common cause of tinnitus). Because unfortunately, according to Christopher Spankovich, Au.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., CCC-A, research assistant professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences in the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida, there is not a whole lot of peer-reviewed publications on diet and tinnitus, meaning it’s hard to really know if anything dietary related actually can cause your tinnitus.
What’s important for each individual to remember is to give your body the diet it does best with. Maybe that means no red wine. Maybe that means one glass of red wine daily. Maybe that means no cheese or chocolate or red meat or coffee (as those tend to be the main culprits of tinnitus).
Whatever the case may be, maintaining a food diary might offer an insight into your dietary, hearing loss and tinnitus patterns, which may or may not reveal a correlation. From that correlation you can decide to make dietary changes to find the relief you're looking for.
Keep in mind to consult your doctor before making any drastic dietary or lifestyle changes. And if you think you are suffering from tinnitus and have yet to see your hearing healthcare professional, visit yours today. If you don't have a hearing healthcare professional, check out our directory to find one near you.