Tinnitus and Vitamin Deficiencies

Doctor carrying out ear exam to female patient.
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Tinnitus is a symptom caused by a variety of inner ear conditions and is perceived as a constant "ringing" or "whooshing" sound within the ear. Other symptoms are usually associated with tinnitus, such as vertigo, hearing loss, nystagmus of the eyes and noise sensitivity. Deficiencies of some vitamins are linked to tinnitus and its related symptoms. Tinnitus may be indicative of a serious disease, so it is important to be evaluated by a doctor before initiating any supplement regimen.

Causes of Tinnitus

According to the "Professional Guide to Diseases," the medical community estimates that 85 percent of the causes of tinnitus are unknown, or idiopathic. Some identified causes include allergies, high blood pressure, side effects from dental work, alcohol consumption, neck injuries, concussions and tumors, among others. However, malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies have been shown to cause reduced hearing and ringing in the ears, as cited in "Human Biochemistry and Disease." Lack of vitamins B-12, D and E are the typical culprits if dietary factors are involved.


Vitamin B12

Vitamin B-12, or cobalamin, is required for metabolism, red blood cell production and maintaining the central nervous system, among other purposes. Of particular relevance to tinnitus is that B-12 is needed to produce myelin, the protective and insulative sheath surrounding nerves. Lack of B-12 causes communication between nerves to deteriorate, leading to impaired higher brain functions, numbness and tingling in the limbs and tinnitus, among other symptoms. An Israeli study published in a 1993 edition of the "American Journal of Otolaryngology" found that tinnitus is associated with vitamin B-12 deficiency and that patients improved with B-12 supplemental therapy. A vitamin B-12 level below 200 picograms per milliliter of blood is indicative of deficiency, although symptoms can take up to five years to develop because it is stored in the body.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is normally associated with softening bones and decreased immunity, but too little can reduce calcium absorption, which can lead to inner ear dysfunction that includes hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo, according to "Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition." Calcium is essential for muscular contraction and tone, and lack of it affects the actions of the tensor tympani and stapedius muscles of the middle ear, leading to tinnitus and hearing loss. Serum concentration of calcidiol is the best measure of vitamin D status, and levels below 37.5 nanomoles per liter are considered deficient.


Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that eliminates free radicals that cause tissue damage, especially in blood vessels. The small blood vessels that feed the inner ear are particularly vulnerable to free-radical and oxidation damage. A deficiency of vitamin E can lead to tinnitus if the small blood vessels of the inner ear or surrounding area become blocked or ruptured, according to "The Vitamins." In effect, a type of stroke occurs, due either to an embolism or a bleed, which leads to reduced hearing and chronic tinnitus. Recommended daily allowance for vitamin E ranges from about 22 IU to 28 IU for adults, although a growing body of research indicates that at least 400 IU per day is more appropriate, as cited in "Nutrition and Public Health."