Natural Remedies for Tinnitus: Can They Help?

A Look at Ginkgo, Acupuncture, and Zinc

ginkgo biloba leaves
Gingko biloba leaves. Meng Yiren/Moment/Getty Images

When you hear noise, it can be hard to concentrate. But if the noise—whether it's ringing, roaring, buzzing, or hissing—is constant or heard regularly when there's no external sound present (called tinnitus), it's hard not to divert all your attention to the phantom noise.

There are two types of tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus is noise that only you can hear and accounts for over 95 percent of tinnitus.

Objective tinnitus, which is sometimes described as a pulsing sound, can be heard by your doctor during an examination and is often associated with muscular contractions or blood vessel problems.

Tinnitus can be caused by a number of conditions, such age-related hearing loss, earwax, pressure or fluid in the middle ear, exposure to loud noises, head injury, or systemic conditions such as high blood pressure. Certain medications can also cause or worsen tinnitus.

Natural Remedies for Tinnitus

For some people, there may be an underlying, treatable condition. Your doctor may recommend switching to a different medication, removing earwax, or addressing a blood vessel condition.

While there may be medication or devices that can help make the noise less bothersome, there may not be anything that can eliminate the noise entirely. 

Here's a look at natural remedies that are sometimes said to help ease tinnitus:

1) Ginkgo biloba

An herb said to stimulate circulation, ginkgo biloba may have an impact on a subset of people with tinnitus.

For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013, researchers examined four previously published clinical trials (with a total of 1,543 participants) on ginkgo biloba for tinnitus.

In their review, the researchers found no evidence that ginkgo biloba was effective for people with tinnitus as their primary concern. In one of the studies, which involved people with mild-to-moderate dementia, a small but statistically significant reduction in tinnitus symptoms was seen in people with either vascular dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

2) Acupuncture

A popular therapy for tinnitus, acupuncture (either manual or electroacupuncture) is sometimes said to help manage symptoms.

In a review published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2012, researchers examined previously published studies on acupuncture for the treatment of tinnitus.

In their report, the study's authors found that the quality of studies was mostly poor. Of the nine randomized controlled trials that used acupuncture as the sole treatment, the size and quality of the trials "were not sufficient for drawing definitive conclusions".

According to the authors of another research review, published in European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology in 2015, compared to English studies, "acupuncture points and sessions used in Chinese studies may be more appropriate, whereas these studies have many methodological flaws and risk bias, which prevents us making a definitive conclusion".

They concluded that acupuncture may offer subjective benefit to some people with tinnitus and that further research is warranted.

3) Zinc

An essential trace mineral, zinc is involved in nerve transmissions throughout the auditory pathway in the body and has been linked to tinnitus in several early studies.

A study published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology in 2015 assessed zinc levels in people with tinnitus. Of the 100 people in the study, 12 had low serum zinc levels. The severity and loudness of tinnitus was greater in those with low zinc levels. The researchers also noted that the mean age of the zinc-deficient group was 65.4 years.

Not all studies have found a link between zinc levels and tinnitus. A study published in Clinical and Experimental Otorhinolaryngology in 2015, for instance, used data from the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) to examine the relationship between serum zinc levels and tinnitus.

After analyzing data from the 2,225 people who responded to the tinnitus questionnaire and provided blood samples to measure serum zinc, the researchers concluded that the low zinc levels were not related to tinnitus.

Many of the earlier studies that have looked at zinc administration have suffered from inadequate experimental design. A more recent study, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial published in Otology and Neurotology in 2013, examined the use of zinc supplements or a placebo in people with tinnitus over the age of 60 (who are more likely to have an age-related zinc deficiency).

The researchers found that while five percent of people had an improvement of 20 points or greater in the Tinnitus Handicap Questionnaire after zinc treatment (compared to two percent of those taking the placebo), the difference was not statistically significant and that zinc was not effective as a treatment in older adults.

4) Other Remedies

Biofeedback is a process that involves learning to consciously control vital functions that are normally unconscious, such as heart rate and breathing. In a 2009 study, researchers found that a combination of biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy could help decrease tinnitus-related distress.

Preliminary studies have also looked at the role of vitamin B12 and magnesium in people with tinnitus.

Final Thoughts

Due to the lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend any of these remedies as a treatment for tinnitus. If you're considering using supplements, talk with your doctor first to weigh the potential risks and benefits. 

Although it can be frustrating to hear that it may not be possible to eliminate the noise, there are strategies that you may be able to work into your daily life to make it easier to manage or cope with your symptoms.

For example, periods of stress activate your body's fight or flight response and can worsen symptoms. Getting regular exercise and practicing meditation, mindfulness, or other relaxation techniques may help to improve your overall health, sleep, and ability to manage stress.

Sources:

Berkiten G, Kumral TL, Yıldırım G, Salturk Z, Uyar Y, Atar Y. Effects of serum zinc level on tinnitus. Am J Otolaryngol. 2015 Mar-Apr;36(2):230-4.

Heinecke K, Weise C, Rief W. Psychophysiological effects of biofeedback treatment in tinnitus sufferers. Br J Clin Psychol. 2009 48(Pt 3):223-39.

Hilton MP, Zimmermann EF, Hunt WT. Ginkgo biloba for tinnitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Mar 28;(3):CD003852. 

Jun HJ, Ok S, Tyler R, Hwang SY, Chae S. Is Hypozincemia Related to Tinnitus?: A Population Study Using Data From the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Clin Exp Otorhinolaryngol. 2015 Dec;8(4):335-8. 

Kim JI, Choi JY, Lee DH, Choi TY, Lee MS, Ernst E. Acupuncture for the treatment of tinnitus: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Jul 17;12:97. 

Liu F, Han X, Li Y, Yu S. Acupuncture in the treatment of tinnitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2016 Feb;273(2):285-94. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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