Tinnitus can have a real impact on everyday life, such as a decrease in concentration, sleep problems and hearing loss. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat tinnitus, including the use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, and behavioural therapies such as tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Aside from these traditional methods, there are also a number of alternative remedies that have been explored, including a range of vitamins and supplements like B12 and zinc.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at these alternative options, and help you understand whether they are able to help you manage your tinnitus. However, it’s important to remember that research into natural remedies for managing tinnitus is still fairly inconclusive, and we always suggest taking the advice of your audiologist first and foremost.
Ginkgo biloba is a supplement that has sometimes been used as therapy for mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and dementia. As it has antioxidant properties, it’s thought that it works by helping to improve blood flow and vascular tone (how much blood vessels constrict relative to their optimal dilated state). It is thought that vascular issues are a potential cause of tinnitus.1
Ultimately, however, studies vary on the effectiveness of the treatment due to how complex tinnitus as a condition is and, as a result, how much it can vary from person to person.1 More high quality studies should help clinicians to understand the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba in treating tinnitus.
It has been suggested in some studies that vitamin B12 deficiency is a potential cause of tinnitus. Low levels of folate and vitamin B12 could lead to the damage of small blood vessels going to the cochlea (part of the inner ear that translates sound to nerve impulses that are sent to the brain). If this is damaged, research strongly suggests that tinnitus may develop.3
One study that focused on vitamin B12 deficiency in tinnitus patients showed that supplementation of vitamin B12 actually reversed the tinnitus symptoms.2
Another recent study showed significant tinnitus improvement after vitamin B12 injections were given in those who had tinnitus and were vitamin B12 deficient.3
However, as with ginkgo biloba, there are also studies that do not find vitamin B12 supplement to be an effective treatment.4
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle secreted mainly by the pineal gland (small and pea-shaped, found in the brain, its function is yet to be fully understood). It’s traditionally a prescription-only supplement used to treat sleep difficulty from shift work or jet lag, and similar to ginkgo biloba, it has antioxidant properties and supposedly may help improve vascular health.
One study found melatonin to be an effective treatment for tinnitus, especially in people who suffer from sleep problems as well as chronic tinnitus.5 Side effects are uncommon, but may include drowsiness, headache, dizziness or nausea.
Zinc is a metal element that exists in the body and is important for maintaining the balance of many bodily reactions — including supporting the nervous system and the cochlea. A zinc deficiency can have a number of effects on the body, including hair loss, diarrhoea and rashes, and zinc supplementation generally has little side effects, though this might include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Tinnitus has been linked with zinc deficiency: some studies have evaluated the role of zinc supplements in people suffering from tinnitus and showed that zinc did benefit tinnitus symptoms.6 However, the jury is still out for zinc supplements, as other studies suggest that they have no real effect on those with tinnitus.7
Magnesium is a key element in supporting many body functions, such as the auditory pathway (how our brain interprets sound). Magnesium deficiency can cause symptoms like tremors, muscle spasms, poor coordination, seizures, and even cardiac arrest. Some studies have even shown that a decrease in blood magnesium levels can lead to tinnitus, and that supplementing with magnesium can alleviate tinnitus symptoms.9
Yoga is a practice that combines exercise, breathing techniques and meditation. It can help to reduce many psychological symptoms, such as stress, anxiety and depression and some of the physical benefits of yoga include increasing flexibility, elevating muscle tone and strength, improving cardiovascular health and also weight loss.
What’s more, a recent study demonstrated that yoga could even help reduce the symptoms of subjective tinnitus symptoms.11 It’s important to remember that there’s still more research that needs to be carried out in order to understand the effectiveness of yoga in tinnitus treatment.
The bottom line
Ultimately, though some studies suggest that these alternative treatments may be helpful in the treatment of tinnitus, higher quality studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of them.
If you have tinnitus, it’s best to take these alternative methods with a pinch of salt, and to treat them as complementary components in treating tinnitus — not as a replacement to recommended therapies such as hearing aids and cognitive behavioural therapy.
If you’re interested in learning more about your tinnitus treatment options take a look at the British Tinnitus Association for more information. Alternatively, visit our tinnitus resource for more information.
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Samantha works in the professional advancement team as national training manager for audiology. She supports Specsavers desire to continue to raise clinical standards through organising… Read more