Tinnitus: Is your diet the culprit?
Research is inconclusive, but experts recommend a food diary to look for patterns
Do you have frequent ringing in the ears and are wondering if your diet is to blame? Chronic tinnitus is poorly understood, and there is little hard evidence to support a definitive connection between tinnitus and food. However, many tinnitus sufferers report a worsening of their symptoms with certain foods or beverages. A recent study (discussed below) also provides some clues.
What is known: Drinking alcohol can be a major culprit behind tinnitus and problems with hearing, but as it turns out, so can many other things we put into our bodies.
For some people, that can mean limiting caffeine or salt. For others, those items might actually help. In essence, everyone's tinnitus food triggers are unique.
What's the research say?
It's very challenging to study how nutrients may influence tinnitus, but a 2020 study tried to do just that. The researchers had more than 34,000 UK adults fill out questionnaires about their hearing difficulties, tinnitus and diet. They then tried to look for any patterns between the three, focusing on vitamins and minerals (salt intake was not studied).
High-fat diet may be harmful
The study found that overall, "higher intakes of calcium, iron, and fat were associated with increased odds of tinnitus, while higher intakes of vitamin B12 and a dietary pattern high in meat intake were associated with reduced odds of tinnitus."
The researchers think fat intake may affect the health of blood vessels, which are important for hearing well. Poor blood vessel health is why heart disease and diabetes are both linked to hearing loss.
It's important to note that the study couldn't prove cause and effect–it wasn't designed to test whether adding a lot of vitamin B12 will reduce hearing difficulties, for example. Instead, it was designed to look for patterns in the data of people's self-reported eating habits and tinnitus symptoms. The next step would be a randomized controlled trial where people's diets are highly controlled for a period of time, and tinnitus symptoms are measured as well.
Bottom line: Do not overhaul your diet based on this one study, but there's a chance what you're eating may be affect the ringing in your ears.
What should you do if you want to see if food is the culprit? Most experts recommend starting a food and tinnitus diary.
A food diary to track tinnitus symptoms
It may be laborious, but it’s worth the time and diligence if it improves your quality of life. As the British Tinnitus Association suggests, “The diary may have to be detailed, specifying what type of meat, vegetable, cheese, fish and so on was consumed, as one particular type of vegetable, for example, may aggravate the tinnitus, where others have no effect.” Pay attention to your tinnitus and keep detailed notes of any starts, stops or changes in the intensity of the noise.
The British Tinnitus Association advises that a food suspected of contributing to tinnitus should be avoided for a week. You can challenge your system by reintroducing that food, withdrawing it, reintroducing it again, and withdrawing it again to test its effects on your tinnitus.
Maintaining a food diary might offer an insight into your dietary and tinnitus patterns, which may or may not reveal a correlation. From that correlation, you can decide to make changes to find the relief you're looking for. What is most important is to give your body the diet it does best with and that minimizes agonizing tinnitus. Maybe that means no more than one glass of red wine each day, or maybe no wine at all. Maybe that means no cheese or chocolate or red meat or coffee. Or you could discover that you don't have any food triggers.
Meniere's disease and salt: A known trigger
Salt helps the body retain fluid and is a necessary electrolyte we all need in our diets. But moderation is key — eating a lot of salty processed foods can worsen high blood pressure and fluid retention. This is especially the case for people with Meniere's disease, an inner ear disorder that cause dizziness, hearing loss and tinnitus, often in one ear. For people with Meniere's, a low-salt diet can reduce tinnitus.
Tinnitus and hearing loss often go hand in hand. Visit our directory to find tinnitus clinics near you who can investigate if your tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss. In many cases, simply wearing hearing aids can lessen tinnitus. Other treatment options exist, as well. Please note that not all hearing clinics treat tinnitus, so you may need to browse several clinic pages to find the right provider.
More: Top tinnitus myths