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Alternative therapies may offer relief from tinnitus

Specialist says patients and physicians should be aware of nutrition and herbal treatments for condition that causes ringing in the ears.

By Peter Fullam/Vicus.com (21 Nov. 2000)

Imagine a ringing in your ears that may never stop. The condition makes it difficult to think, to concentrate and even to sleep. It's a reality faced by an estimated 50 million Americans who suffer from a condition called tinnitus, commonly described as a ringing in the ears.

Effects from tinnitus may be subtle, temporary or permanent and life-altering, striking people of all ages. An estimated 12 million people who are coping with tinnitus experience symptoms so severe they cannot function on a normal daily basis, according to the American Tinnitus Association.

There is no cure. But a few studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that some alternative and complementary therapies -- generally nutritional and herbal -- may offer relief from these symptoms of tinnitus, according to Michael D. Seidman, M.D., medical director of the Tinnitus Center at the Henry Ford Health System in Bloomfield, Mich.

"As physicians, we must be willing to consider all types of medical management -- complementary and alternative included -- for the health and wellness of our patients," Seidman wrote in an article, "Alternative Management of Tinnitus," published in the December 1999 issue of Tinnitus Today.

"What's happening in the inner ear is happening in the brain, skeletal muscle, the liver, the heart, all over," Seidman, an anti-aging expert who recently patented a supplement to help the elderly improve their hearing, told Vicus.com in a telephone interview.

Seidman notes in Part I of his article, "Vitamin and Mineral Therapies," that there is no single cause of tinnitus, and therefore it's unlikely that there is one cure.

However, generally speaking, people with tinnitus should follow a good diet based on all food groups and focus on reducing or eliminating caffeine, alcohol, salt and simple sugars, said Seidman.

There are also several specific nutrients that have been suggested to benefit tinnitus sufferers, according to Seidman. B-complex supplements lead this category as deficiencies in B vitamins have been shown to result in tinnitus.

"By adding these vitamins to the diet, it is possible that the tinnitus can be treated," said Seidman, noting:

B vitamins: Vitamin B-complex stabilizes nerves and appears to have a beneficial effect on some tinnitus patients. However, only anecdotal evidence is available on this therapy.
Vitamin B-1 (thiamine): Some patients say supplements have provided them with relief from symptoms.
Vitamin B-3 (niacin): Although there is no clinical proof that niacin is an effective treatment, there are numerous anecdotal reports that it helps reduce symptoms. Seidman normally recommends a starting dosage of 50 mg twice a day, up to a maximum of 500 mg twice a day. If there is no improvement in three to four months, it's not likely to happen, he said.
Higher dosages may cause liver problems and are not recommended. Other vitamins and minerals that may have a beneficial effect include vitamin B-12, Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, calcium, magnesium and manganese, Seidman reported.

Herbal treatments
Ginkgo biloba leads the list of herbal remedies Seidman cited.

"Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of ginkgo on relieving leg cramping, decreased circulation to the brain and the symptoms of tinnitus," wrote Seidman.

In a 1986 study conducted by herbalist Christopher Hobbs, the ringing completely disappeared in 35% of the patients treated.

The German Commission E Monographs, considered an authoritative resource on the use of herbs, lists tinnitus as a condition ginkgo may help in relieving. The monograph cites a dosage of 240 mg twice a day.

Other herbs that may provide some relief to some patients, Seidman said, are: black cohosh, ligustrum, mullein, pulsatilla, lycium fruit, cornus, cuscuta, foxglove root, alisma, St. John's wort, Valerian root and kava kava. (Click here for details.)

"The bottom line I tell people is don't give up hope," Seidman told Vicus.com. "Don't listen to doctors who say you have to learn to live with it."

That's true to an extent because there's no cure, Seidman said.

"But that doesn't mean you can't get help," Seidman said. "There are lots of things we can do."

Peter Fullam covers acupuncture for Vicus.com

Related articles:

FAQs: The essential acupuncture primer

Ginkgo biloba: profile of a "brain booster"

Ireland orders prescription for St. John's wort

NIH expands dietary supplement research

Research targets medicinal use of botanicals


Seidman M. Alternative management of tinnitus Part I
-- vitamin and mineral therapies. Tinnitus Today. 1999 Dec; 24(4):11-13.

Seidman M. Alternative management of tinnitus Part II
-- herbal remedies. Tinnitus Today. 2000 Mar; 25(1):10-12.

Ochi K, Ohashi T, et al. Serum zinc levels in patients with tinnitus and the effect of zinc treatment. Journal of the Oto-Rhinol Laryngol Society of Japan. 1997; 100(9): 915-9.

Rudolph FW, Fintelmann V (eds). Herbal Medicine. Beaconsfield Publishers, LTD, Beaconsfield (England): 1998.

Holgers KM, Axelsson A, et al. Ginkgo biloba extract for the treatment of tinnitus. Audiology. 1994; 33(2):85-92.

Hobbs C. Ginkgo Elixir of Youth. Botanica Press. Santa Cruz (CA): 1991; pp. 50-51.

Blumenthal M, Busse W, Goldberg A, (eds): The Complete German Commission E. Monographs, Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin (TX): 1998.

American Tinnitus Association: www.ata.org
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