Ringing in your ear – it’s a pesky, irritating sound. You may rub or pull on your ear, open your mouth wide, or try other tricks to get the noise to stop. Many things contribute to and affect ringing and other nuisance sounds in your ear. Recent research highlights the need for maintaining good health and nutrition for this delicate sense.
Buzz, Hum, or Ring
A few seconds of ringing in the ear is an annoyance. Sounds of buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or humming may also occur as ear noises. These irritations may happen randomly or be persistent. When the noise persists, it can interfere with understanding speech and work performance. It may even affect your sleep, mood, stress tolerance, and sometimes even your balance. Here are some things to consider with inner ear health and the sounds you may hear.
A variety of factors may contribute to ringing in the ear. Occupational or loud noise exposure, ear and sinus congestion, elevated blood sugar levels, chronic alcohol use, and jaw joint dysfunction (TMJ) are factors. Smoking, obesity, caffeine intake are also hypothesized to contribute to ear noises. Today’s modern society and use of ear buds contributes to ringing in the ears along with changes in brain health and disruptions in nerve communications.
Medications can also cause ringing in the ears. Common culprits include aspirin/salicylate, other NSAIDS like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), celecoxib, diclofenac, indomethacin, and meloxicam, etc., Tylenol/acetominophen, and some antibiotics. Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs (cisplatin and carboplatin) can also cause ringing in the ears. Toxic effects from these drugs create a free radical stress response that triggers ringing in the ear.
Inner Ear Health and Endolymph
Auditory health is a complex make-up of many types of structures and parts. Your ear consists of three parts – the outer, middle, and inner ear. The inner ear is filled with lymphatic fluid called endolymph inside a sac. Endolymph fluid bathes the hearing and balance structures of your inner ear.
Endolymph fluid contains the electrolyte minerals—sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium—which are used by sensory cells for hearing. This fluid requires a very high concentration of sodium and potassium for the electrical potential and regulation of electrochemical impulses of hair cells inside the inner ear.
Age, ear and sinus congestion, allergies, dehydration, and even being low on electrolytes from insufficient dietary intake or diuretics/water pills may affect the endolymph sac and fluid movement in your inner ear. When this homeostasis is disturbed, endolymph fluid becomes congested. It stresses the inner ear hair cells and auditory-nerve mechanism contributing to ear noises. Good lymph circulation and antioxidants help support and protect these natural functions.
Antioxidant Status and Lymph Support
Ear and auditory health, especially your inner ear, is a dynamic complex sense that relies on healthy nervous system function, blood flow, and much more. Hearing and processing auditory information naturally cause the production of free radicals like reactive oxygen species (ROS). When ROS free radicals are not captured by antioxidants, it contributes to ringing in the ears.
Evidence shows the necessity of optimal antioxidant status for auditory comfort and ear noise. A recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that adults with high antioxidant support experienced more auditory comfort and stability with ear sounds than those with low antioxidant levels. Another small clinical trial showed that antioxidant support helped reduce oxidative stress in the inner ear and auditory system.
Other research has provided dietary guidance for endolymph movement in the ear. This may include reduction/elimination of alcohol, caffeine, a low sodium diet, and a gluten-free diet with avoidance of refined flours/grains.
A whole foods diet rich in vegetables, fruits, unrefined grains/gluten-free grains, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts provides superior nutrition compared to the Western Diet of high calorie processed foods that are nutrient poor. Work with your health care professional for additional guidance if you have significant concerns.
Arabinogalactan, a prebiotic fiber, also provides support for lymphatic fluid. Research shows that arabinogalactan modulates immune activity in lymphatic and circulatory tissues outside the digestive tract. We have used arabinogalactan for about 30 years to aid lymph movement and circulation in ears, sinuses, and throats in all ages. It is a customer favorite for young and old alike!
Arabinogalactan is found in Immune Plus and Super Immune Booster.
When thinking about hearing and auditory health, the thought of fiber is likely not something that comes to mind. Soluble and insoluble fiber intake affects more than your gut health as its benefits apply to your whole body – including auditory health.
A recent Australian study evaluated the pattern of dietary fiber intake in adults for 10 years. Individuals who had the highest fiber intake experienced considerably less concerns with ringing in the ears.
Intake of fiber, especially insoluble fiber, was associated with better heart and circulatory health and blood sugar management. These effects were found to promote healthy blood flow to the auditory system and brain. Higher fiber intake also led to less oxidative stress from elevated blood sugar to nerves within the inner ear.
Studies across recent decades have focused on a handful of nutrients for inner ear health and function. Nutrients found helpful for protecting the inner ear functions include vitamin B12, zinc, melatonin, manganese, and ginkgo with more yet to be identified and confirmed.
Zinc supports ear and auditory health like it does eye health. It has been known for decades that even marginally low intake of dietary zinc affects hearing. Like your eyes, auditory pathways and the inner ear contain and require high amounts zinc to maintain normal function. It is a common mineral deficiency for many age groups.
Studies have demonstrated that an optimal level of zinc in the inner ear helps stabilize nerves involved with hearing. The presence of zinc inhibits mechanisms that can trigger ringing in the ear. Clinical case studies showed significant differences in hearing, ringing in the ears, and zinc levels compared to the control group.
More information about zinc may be found in the article: Zinc Essential for Immunity, Sense of Smell, and More.
Vitamin B12 is required for many mechanisms of brain and nerve health. This includes auditory pathways and the connection to nerve centers in your brainstem. B12 is required for myelin production which is the fatty insulation around nerves. A breakdown in this balance has been found to contribute to auditory changes.
In addition, B12 supports the microvasculature in the inner ear. A decline in B12 levels can cause a breakdown of capillary blood flow to the inner ear and result in a decrease of electrical activity leading to ringing in the ears.
Vitamin B12 is lacking in plant-based diets and many restricted diets. More information may be found in the article Vitamin B12 Essential for Energy, Mood, and Overall Health.
A small clinical study evaluated vitamin B12 and melatonin levels in the elderly who experienced ringing in the ears. Those who had higher blood levels of vitamin B12 and melatonin fared better than those with low nutrient status for ear noise related issues.
More information about melatonin and its vast effects may be found in the article Melatonin, Mitochondria, Circadian Rhythms – Are You in Sync?
Manganese, a trace mineral, has also been found helpful for auditory function. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, low dietary intake of manganese was common amongst those who experienced ringing in the ears.
Manganese, not to be confused with magnesium, is an essential mineral. It is required for blood sugar regulation, antioxidant support against reactive oxygen species (ROS), cellular energy, and much more.
Unrefined grains like oats, wheat germ, bran, rice, almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans contain the highest amounts of manganese. Other good sources include chocolate, tea, legumes, clams and mussels, spinach, flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts.
Manganese is also in Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin and Thyroid Helper.
Has That Ringing Caught Your Attention?
The absence of the ringing, buzzing, rushing, or humming sound in your ears is the norm. When structures in your inner ear and surrounding fluids, electrolytes, nutrients, blood flow, antioxidant status, lymph and blood circulation, and nerves/brain cells become stressed, then odd sounds are more likely to occur. Because there are so many contributing factors, each person may have a combination of factors that trigger that annoying ringing.
Aging well and protection of your senses is a daily and lifelong process. Listening to your body and being in tune with its sounds provides a gauge in how you are keeping up with things. All the creaks, gurgles, thump-thumps, and buzzing in your body provide insight into your daily internal symphony. Has the ringing in your ears caught your attention?