Zinc Reduces Tinnitus
People with tinnitus experience significant improvement when given supplemental zinc, according to a new study in Otology and Neurotology (2003;24:86–9).
Tinnitus is a hearing disturbance characterized by a sensation of persistent noise, often described as ringing, buzzing, or roaring. It is one of the most common hearing disorders, affecting 17% of the general population and 33% of the elderly. A number of medications have been suggested for the treatment of tinnitus, including steroids and antibiotics, but none have been consistently effective. One preliminary study found that vitamin B12 deficiency was common among people with tinnitus, and that treatment of the deficiency with vitamin B12 injections was helpful. An extract from the herb Ginkgo biloba has also been used to treat tinnitus, with inconsistent results. Zinc is a trace mineral that has many functions in the body. Zinc deficiency is known to cause a variety of neurological disorders, as well as immune dysfunction and skin disorders.
The current study examined the prevalence of zinc deficiency and the effect of zinc therapy in people with tinnitus. Forty-one people with tinnitus participated in the study, and more than 31% of them were found to have zinc deficiency. All of the participants were randomly assigned to receive either 50 mg of zinc or placebo daily. At the end of two months, 46% of the people in the zinc group had clinical improvement, defined as a ten-decibel or greater decrease in loudness of tinnitus. Although the frequency and loudness of tinnitus decreased more in the zinc group than in the placebo group, the differences were not statistically significant. Results of a questionnaire, however, showed a significant improvement in the experience of tinnitus in people receiving zinc but not in people receiving placebo. Among the people receiving zinc, those with zinc deficiency did not respond differently than those with adequate zinc levels.
A number of previous studies have similarly examined the role of zinc deficiency in tinnitus. Most, but not all, of these studies have found a relationship between zinc deficiency and tinnitus. Reports of effectiveness of zinc treatment have been inconsistent. The results of the current study do not suggest that zinc deficiency is critical in the development of tinnitus, but rather that zinc may help people with tinnitus regardless of their zinc status.
The authors of the current study suggest that zinc deficiency was common in their participants with tinnitus but no comparison was made to people of the same age without tinnitus. Zinc deficiency can be common in some populations, and people who eat a vegetarian diet are especially susceptible. Taking zinc supplements can reverse deficiency. Over long periods of time, however, high doses, such as that used in this study, can cause copper deficiency. For this reason, long-term zinc supplementation should, in most cases, be accompanied by a copper supplement, and should be supervised by a nutritionally oriented healthcare provider.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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