Have you changed your diet in the hope that it will improve your tinnitus?
If so, you’re in good company. But does it work?
What’s the evidence?
According to Tinnitus UK, research does not show that people with tinnitus should avoid specific food or drink. Yet it’s clear from tinnitus-related forums and Facebook groups that some people do find a benefit from excluding, let’s say coffee, or alcohol.
Just as tinnitus can vary widely from one person to another, so can the affect of food or drink. So if we’re wondering whether a change in diet might help our tinnitus, the simplest way is to carry out an experiment.
The best way to test the impact of food and drink on our tinnitus is by methodical exclusion. Tempting as it is to cut out all our suspects at the same time, if we do that we’ll never know which of all the food and drink we’ve excluded is actually contributing to our tinnitus. Instead, we need to take systematic approach, and exclude the items we think might be affecting our tinnitus experience one by one.
To do this, it’s suggested that we exclude one item from our diet for at least 3 weeks, then gradually re-introduce it and see whether we notice a difference in our tinnitus. We then repeat this process with each of our potential suspects. This could potentially mean that it takes a few months to work through them all and check their impact on our tinnitus. But if we find something that makes a big difference it will be worth it.
Pros and Cons
Whilst the exclusion process is a helpful way of working out whether anything in our diet is making our tinnitus seem worse, there are pros and cons.
- The exclusion method helps us to pinpoint exactly which food or drink item affects our tinnitus. This means we won’t be restricting our diet unnecessarily because we think that a range of items might be impacting our tinnitus. Life with tinnitus can be hard enough without missing out on some of our favourite foods and drinks unnecessarily!
- The time needed to work through the exclusion method can lead to us becoming hypervigilant of our tinnitus – checking in often to try and determine whether excluding this drink or that food has made a difference. And we all know that the more we think about our tinnitus, the worse it can seem.
- Our tinnitus challenge might be less about our diet and more about the environment in which we consume it. We might think that coffee’s to blame, but the fact that we drink it while working 10 hours per day at a stressful job, might have more influence on our tinnitus than we realise.
Recent and interesting research
At the latest Tinnitus UK conference in 2023 we heard details of some interesting diet-related research carried out in Italy.
Between 2016 and 2019 Ms Jarach and her team worked with 185 people with tinnitus and 198 without, asking them to complete a 37-item food-frequency questionnaire*.
They found each of the following to be potentially protective against tinnitus onset:
- moderate intake of coffee (between 850 and 1749 milligrams per week)
- poultry, prosciutto (this is Italy, remember!) and legumes (all three being sources of proteins
- Eating a wide variety of different foods (at least 20)
In a current study taking place in Scandinavia, Ms Jarach and her research team have noted that consuming fruit and vegetables at least twice a day is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of severe tinnitus.
What does this mean for us?
The two research studies mentioned above are just a snapshot of some dietary elements that could potentially help in reducing the risk of tinnitus. I, for one, am delighted with the finding about coffee, and am now telling myself my morning cuppa is practically medicinal! But, joking aside, Ms Jarach says there needs to be significant follow-up to test and extend these findings. That means we shouldn’t take them as definitive regarding the role of diet in tinnitus.
So that takes us back to the importance of experimenting with our own diet, and listening to our own body, in our quest to see whether food and drink has any impact on our tinnitus.
*You can read the research about this study here
Have you found any foods that seem to affect your tinnitus? Please let us know in the comments below.
I have interpreted this research to make it accessible to people with tinnitus. Any errors in this article are my own.