Natural Interventions for Tinnitus
Also referred to as ringing in the ears, tinnitus is defined as high-pitched buzzing sounds generated by the body and not an outside source that only the affected person can hear.
According to a new analysis published in The Lancet, the number of Americans with tinnitus is higher than previously thought and is on the rise. Using 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data, the study found that nearly 30 million people in the United States, more than 11 percent of the population, have tinnitus which is an increase from 9.6 percent in 2007. The analysis also found that more than 41 percent always have symptoms with nearly 30 percent having symptoms for 15 years or longer.
The authors concluded that tinnitus creates a substantial health burden because it negatively impacts sleep quality, concentration, conversational speech, and overall quality of life and is associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression.
Presently, conventional medicine has little to offer patients with tinnitus with cognitive behavioral therapy being the only treatment with some efficacy in mitigating the symptoms. Other treatments such as sound therapy (acoustic stimulation and hearing aids) and tinnitus retraining therapy have very low-quality evidence. The American Tinnitus Association reports that there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications available to treat tinnitus, however, pharmaceutical interventions are sometimes employed to address the anxiety, depression, insomnia, and stress that can accompany the illness.
Research indicates that certain nutrients alone or in combination may provide significant symptom relief.
Several vitamins, minerals, and herbs have been shown to help ease tinnitus symptoms including melatonin, magnesium, vitamin B12, zinc, and Ginkgo biloba.
A 2023 randomized, placebo-controlled trial featuring 69 patients found that Ginkgo biloba combined with antioxidants resulted in significant improvement in the Tinnitus Handicap Index (THI), Visual Analogue Score (VAS), and Short Form 36 Health Scores. In this study, patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups: placebo, Ginkgo biloba only (60 mg twice daily), and Ginkgo biloba combined with antioxidants (60 mg twice daily plus 20 mg of beta-carotene, 200 mg of vitamin C, 200 mg of vitamin E, and 50 mcg of selenium). The researchers concluded that the antioxidant nutrients played a synergistic role making the combination more effective at reducing oxidative auditory damage than Ginkgo biloba alone.
A 2023 review with Ginkgo biloba as a sole intervention found mixed results with some of the studies demonstrating it was effective at reducing the loudness and severity of tinnitus while other studies showed no effect.
A 2021 prospective, interventional study utilized a dietary supplement containing Ginkgo biloba, 5-hydroxytryptophan, magnesium, melatonin, vitamin B5 and B6, and zinc and found a significant improvement in THI scores, as well as a significant decrease in perceived tinnitus loudness after three months.
Melatonin as a sole intervention has also been shown to help patients with tinnitus. A 2011 prospective, randomized, double-blind, crossover trial featuring 61 patients with chronic tinnitus demonstrated a statistically significant decrease in tinnitus intensity and improved sleep quality in those who took 3 mg of melatonin nightly compared to placebo. A 2017 randomized clinical trial comparing 3 mg of melatonin daily to 50 mg of sertraline (Zoloft) daily found that melatonin was more effective at treating symptoms of tinnitus.
Magnesium appears to be another important nutrient when it comes to tinnitus. Research indicates that there is a significant association between low serum magnesium and tinnitus. A small 2011 study featuring 26 patients with moderate to severe tinnitus found that magnesium supplementation at 532 mg daily resulted in significant improvements in tinnitus symptoms.
Vitamin B12 can also be considered. A 2016 pilot study found a link between vitamin B12 deficiency and tinnitus and when the deficiency was corrected with vitamin B12 intramuscular therapy, there was a significant improvement in tinnitus severity and VAS.
Patients with tinnitus may also be deficient in zinc. A 2011 randomized, prospective, placebo-controlled study found that correcting the deficiency can lead to an improvement in subjective tinnitus symptoms.
From an integrative standpoint, in addition to herbal and nutrient interventions, other complementary strategies to consider include acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, and biofeedback.
Tinnitus is more prevalent than previously thought and there are presently no universally accepted or effective treatments for this condition. There is also no cure for tinnitus. The treatment goal is to help the patient manage symptoms and improve overall quality of life by lessening the distress this condition can cause. Nutrients and herbs may play a key role in achieving this goal.