Tinnitus. That annoying little ringing that you can always hear in your brain that nothing seems to help. To make it worse, it always seems to get worse just when you’re trying to fall asleep at night.
And treatments are few and far between and usually involve some type of hearing aid to counterbalance the frequencies in your brain (called amplification) to give the brian the stimulation that it may be missing.
The exact cause of tinnitus has not been nailed down, but it likely involves some type of damage to the acuoustic nerves, whether from a chemical insult (caused by “ototoxic” compounds like certain antibiotics, diuretics, chemotherapy drugs and some anti-inflammatories), acoustic damage (remember that Ozzy concert that left your ears ringing for days?) or metabolic damage.
While the focus of this article is going to be on treatment for tinnitus once it’s present, I need to take some time right now to cover prevention.
Avoiding ototoxic drugs is obviously a pretty cut-and-dry proposition. And while not every antibiotic and every anti-inflammatory is going to cause hearing damage in every case, my easy answer would be to avoid them except in the most needed situations (i.e. when you can’t get to your chiropractor, like, right now…).
To minimize the damage caused by load exposures, wear hearing protection when possible (shooting, working machinery, riding a motorcycle, etc…). In case you really want to go to that Nickelback concert and prefer not to be the only geek with massive headphones who is NOT in charge of the soundboard, there is some evidence that you can protect acute hearing damage with antioxidants like ginko biloba, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, N-acetyl cystein (NAC) and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) when taken before the exposure.
The biggest one to be aware of, however, is hearing damage and tinnitus caused by metabolic damage. Most notably prediabetes. Yep–that demonic situation where your lifestyle is clashing with your genetics, leading to a state of metabolic mayham, increasing your risk of pretty much everything. Almost all patients who note tinnitus on their intake paperwork are very surprised to hear that ringing in the ears can be a decades-early warning sign that you are on the path to diabetes.
How does this happen? At its root, prediabetes will effect the ability of every cell to use energy efficiently. In same cases the cell itself can become toxic from glucose overload. If this process of cell damage is occurring in every organ of the body, which organ system do you think is going to be the most sensitive? In other words, which organ system do you think would send you warning signals first?
It would be the organ system that is responsible to feeding you all other inputs as well–the nervous system. And one of the most sensitive aspects of our nervous system is hearing. Consider it the “low hanging fruit” of the nervous system–hearing is going to be the first part of the nervous system that you will be able to detect damage in.
The easiest way to prevent this metabolic damage to your nervous system is to live an anti-diabetic lifestyle (you can read more on this by checking out my eBook on Diabetes by clicking here).
But let’s say you’re reading this just a few years too late and the metabolic cat is out of the bag and there has been too much damage to your acoustic nerves to repair. In this situation I would direct you to this particular article. In this article researchers use an animal model to determine that blocking the NMDA receptor in mice has a postive effect on tinnitus.
If you’re already completely comfortable with the NMDA receptor and what it does, than you should be able to breeze through the article. For the rest of us, let me see if I can put this into planer language.
The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor is a receptor on the cells of your brain that play a role in things like memory, behavior and the ability of your brain to make new brain cells (synaptic plasticity). If you’d like to get a really good idea of what happens to the brain when the NMDA receptor is attacked by the immune system, the non-fiction book Brain on Fire is an excellent read to give you an idea of just how much havoc can occur.
Here are a few quick facts about the NMDA receptor:
- It is a type of glutamate receptor. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that drives brain cells to work faster. MSG is one source of glutamate.
- Aspartate can also active the receptor. You may recognize aspartate from a more common term, aspartame (Nutrisweet). Part of aspartame is made up of aspartate.
- Zinc and copper can block the actions of the NMDA receptor.
With all this confusing stuff in mind, the study should be a wee bit clearer. In it, researchers found that by blocking the NMDA receptor, tinnitus symptoms in rats could be reduced. While the compound used in this study is not something you could run down to Costco and buy right now, the concept does lead to some potential treatments to help with tinnitus:
- Lowering the levels of glutamate in your brain can help. Vitamin B6 helps your brain convery glutamate into the calming neurotransmitter GABA.
- In line with #3 above, some early studies using zinc have shown benefits in tinnitus.
- Calcium plays a complicated, but important role in glutamate function. When glutamate levels are high, extra calcium can actually make the situation worse, leading to further brain cell damage. Making sure that you have optimal levels of calcium can be a start to helping control calcium levels.
- Magnesium plays a role in healthy vitamin B6 metabolism. Making sure you have good levels of magnesium can make sure B6 is available to help produce GABA.
While this information may be a bit confusing, it does begin to show you the way by which you CAN have control over your tinnitus using natural approaches that focus on lowering the levels of the excitatory brain compound glutamate.