If you suffer from tinnitus—that irritating, persistent ringing in your ears—you know that it’s no joke. They say caffeine and certain foods can set it off, but you may be surprised—and relieved—by what one group of researchers discovered when they looked at diet and tinnitus.
After reading studies that debunked the caffeine-tinnitus myth (rejoice, coffee lovers—you’re safe!), researchers from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom looked into other associations between diet and tinnitus. For their analysis, they accessed a huge research database called the UK Biobank that collects health information on middle-aged people. About 500,000 individuals are in the database, all of whom actively provide information via questionnaire.
The researchers identified nearly 172,000 people whose information about tinnitus, diet, lifestyle habits and emotional health allowed the researchers to draw some broad conclusions about tinnitus and food. Issues known to be associated with tinnitus, such as smoking, hearing loss, loud noise exposure, certain medical conditions (such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), high body mass index and level of neuroticism were taken into account and controlled for.
The results: Caffeinated coffee was not only not associated with tinnitus, but the odds of having occasional or persistent tinnitus were slightly lower in people who drank it daily compared with those who did not. (Note: How much coffee per day was not examined.) The odds of having persistent tinnitus also were slightly lower in people who ate fish at least once per week compared with people who ate fish less frequently or not at all.
Avoiding eggs lessened a person’s odds of persistent tinnitus by 13%.
Surprisingly, people who avoided dairy products weren’t doing themselves any favors. The odds of having persistent tinnitus were 27% higher for them compared with people who did indulge in dairy, and the odds of having occasional tinnitus were 18% higher.
Also surprising: Avoiding wheat and refined carbs (including sweets) didn’t have an impact on the odds of having tinnitus either—an important finding because some small studies have hinted that high blood sugar can impact hearing loss and, by extension, tinnitus.
DIET BEYOND YOUR EARS
These statistics don’t guarantee that if you stop eating eggs and start eating more fish or drinking more coffee that your tinnitus will disappear. But it may help. In addition, the authors confirmed that poor heart health, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, plays a role in tinnitus risk.
The study provides some food for thought about what might be setting off your tinnitus and what might help alleviate it. Most importantly, perhaps, you can stop denying yourself that creamy latte for fear it will make your ears ring. The odds are in your favor.