Subscribe!

Nutritional Effects Upon Tinnitus: A Friendly Discussion

A lively debate, er, um, discussion, rather, between Dr. C. and Professor Friendly about nutritional claims regarding relief of tinnitus complaints.

Professor Friendly: I really don't buy the bogus assumption that nutrition has anything to do with tinnitus, do you?

Dr. C: (Picking self off of floor) Well, ummm, I don't believe in bogus assumptions, either. But first tell me this: To which bogus assumptions are you referring?

Professor F: Well, you know, I searched Medline on the Internet and there just aren't any double-blind studies that show conclusively that nutritional supplements can help tinnitus. It just raises false expectations in tinnitus sufferers.

Dr. C: Then, my next question is, how do you define tinnitus?

Professor F: You know, it's ringing of the ears, that's all. Tinnitus is tinnitus is tinnitus. There is no cure.

Dr. C: OK, so your level of study of tinnitus has not yet taken you to the molecular, neurophysiological level yet. But rest assured there those of us who've been studying this subject under a microscope for many years, and we've found that etiologies and sites of lesion of tinnitus complaints are almost as varied as the individuals who suffer from them. Because of myriad variations it is virtually impossible to hold "blind" or "double-blind" studies. I mean, first of all, how do you compare one person's tinnitus with another? And second of all, how do you trick anyone into going "blind" on his or her condition? So my next question is this, what do you feel is bogus about considering nutritional factors as part of the solution for some cases of tinnitus?

Professor F: Well, er, I'm not sure what you mean. Let's take the Chinese herb ginkgo biloba. One study claims to show benefits in the majority of subjects, while yet other studies show absolutely no change. I call that inconclusive.

Dr. C: With all due respect, sir, I call it short-sighted. That would bring us to the question as to what substance were each study comparing? The French study completed in the early 1990s, for instance, utilized a specially processed and highly concentrated form of ginkgo that preserved amino-acid chains and enzymes. Another study in the U.S. simply allowed subjects to purchase a cheap, unproven brand of ginkgo off-the-shelf of local grocers and drug stores. Our finding was that the two substances were quite different from each other. In fact, the U.S. study was for a very short duration compared to the French study, plus the U.S. ignored other mitigating and causal factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, and personal health profile. It also lumped all types of tinnitus into one category as you did while ago, while the French study was designed with strict pathological parameters, primarily for those suspected of stria vascularis constrictions. Therefore, there were between subject and within-subject comparisons. In the U.S. study, the parameters were about as useful as detecting the benefits of lawn clippings for general headaches after 30 days.

Professor F: Well, I didn't know that.

Dr. C: Neither does J. Q. Public when they hear these grand pronouncements by the "experts critics" of nutritional claims. Something else, I noted a few years ago: There was an expose program on national television that purported that Echinacea was ineffective in warding off colds. The sole focus on the program was that herbs were pure quackery, and have little effect compared to today's modern pharmaceutical solutions. When I later inquired with the program's producers as to what substance they used to determine the effectiveness of Echinacea, it turns out they didn't know the difference between angustifolia and purpurea Echinacea, or that there was any significance to how it is processed and packaged. The consumers on the program who showed absolutely no affect on their health were buying the cheap purpurea ground-flower version, which is a little stronger than those grass clippings I mentioned while ago. The doctor that was hacked down by the reporter for recommending Echinacea to his patients was using a high-grade angustifolia root complex. Of course, millions of uninformed viewers were unaware of this apples and oranges comparison, and, I'm sure, went away shaking their heads. To me this is the height of professional dishonesty and an ethical abrogation. Just as those who make such claims have the burden of responsibility to show solid evidence, those who would criticize also are burdened with disproving it, using at least the same level of informed judgment as the one they are criticizing.

Professor F: Ummm, I don't know what to say to that. Well, then, have you found any credible studies on the relationship between tinnitus and nutrition?

Dr. C: As a matter of fact, there are many. Some are in anecdotal within-subject studies, such as individual case histories. These generally are microscopic examinations into causes, effects, and in developing various models of treatment. Then, there are some larger population studies. But those required more narrowly defined population characteristics than would apply to the population at large. In other words, only persons who share similar etiological bases and overlay could compare themselves to study subjects.

Professor F: Mmmmmm:

Dr. C: To give you a quick run-down: Two studies out of Israel (Institute for Noise Hazards Research and Evoked Potentials Laboratory at Chaim-Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv University) demonstrated a strong correlation between vitamin B-12 deficiency and tinnitus that appeared to be caused by myelin-deficient nerve fibers. They found out of 385 subjects that 36-47% suffered from B-12 deficiency. B-12 injections of 1,000 mcg. were injected weekly for 4-6 months. 54% reported significant improvement in their tinnitus. It was reported by one of the researchers that, "long-term exposure to noise may deplete body levels of B-12 and so make the ears more vulnerable to noise-induced damage." It was further found that B-12 deficiencies can cause raised blood levels of homocystiene, an amino acid that it felt to be toxic to the nerves.

Professor F: Well, I'll be:.

Dr. C: Many studies show a relationship between Zinc deficiency and tinnitus in the cochlea, while others show a direct relationship in cases of Magnesium and/or Calcium deficiencies. Certain types of vitamin E (there are eight!) have also shown promise in lessening tinnitus associated with vascular constrictions, such as in hardening of the arteries and hyperlidemia. In this case, the tiny capillaries of the stria vascularis that lines the cochlea and vestibular organs are simply not bringing enough oxygen and nutrients to the inner ear, a major cause of both tinnitus and sensorineural loss. And then there are the ginkgo studies:

Professor F: Enough already! I believe you, I just don't know where to start with my investigation of nutrition and tinnitus.

Dr. C: Well, why don't you start with consulting the literature of those who've been working with this over many years? Like they say, "the proof is in the pudding". Patients who've reported benefits under these regimens can't all be "placebo effects", now can they? The truth of the matter is that it is the professional and ethical duty of every health practitioner and educator to become informed about alternative approaches to resolving human illness. In my experience, the most powerful medicine in the world is a combination of all the good that modern medicine has to offer coupled with intelligent use of alternative, holistic approaches. Of course, the best doctor in the house is one's own body:

Professor F: Thanks for setting me straight about this.

Dr. C: Well, thank you for opening your mind to the possibility that there just might be some hope for tinnitus sufferers, as well.

- 0707