“Eat more fiber.” It’s a message that you’re likely very familiar with– and for good reason.
Fiber not only treats constipation and helps maintain bowel health, this nutrient also lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
Thanks to new research, we can now add another important benefit of fiber to the list. The science shows that increased fiber intake also reduces the risk of tinnitus.
The perception of persistent buzzing, hissing, or ringing sounds in the ears from tinnitus affects over 45 million Americans, making the condition one of the most common health problems in the U.S.
Medical researchers have proposed many reasons why tinnitus occurs including genetics, work-related noise exposure, neck injury and jaw problems, middle ear and sinus infections, hearing loss, history of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, as well as common medications such as antibiotics, diuretics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs and antidepressants. However, much is still unknown about the condition.
Strategies to treat tinnitus include hearing aids, sound therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapy, as well as newer treatments such as transcranial electrical stimulation.
Not surprisingly, the role of diet in the development and treatment of tinnitus has received little attention, so researchers from Australia decided to investigate.
Linked to Hearing Loss and Blood Vessel Health
The few previously conducted studies suggested a protective effect from a healthier overall diet, a higher intake of B vitamins, and higher consumption of fish and other sources of lean protein.
However, for this study the researchers focused on the role of dietary fiber. They theorized that insufficient fiber intake is linked to tinnitus because of strong evidence for its beneficial roles in hearing and vascular health.
Prior research by this group had already identified hearing loss and dizziness as significant factors in tinnitus, and other researchers have suggested pathways in the body that could link tinnitus to the health of blood vessels.
To test their theory, the Australian scientists used data from an existing study involving 1,194 tinnitus-free participants aged 50 and over. Each participant had completed a food frequency questionnaire covering 145 items. Researchers used this to calculate carbohydrate, sugar, and fiber levels. A decade later, researchers tested the participants’ hearing, of which 222 reported the development of tinnitus.
Researchers adjusted the findings to account for age, gender, energy intake, hearing loss, history of middle ear infections and dizziness. Then, they divided the intake of fiber, carbohydrates, and sugar into four levels.
High Fiber Lowered Tinnitus Risk Substantially
Those in the top group for total fiber intake had a 45 percent reduction in the risk of tinnitus. Those with the second to lowest intake of fiber fared slightly worse with a 40 percent reduction in tinnitus risk.
After further analysis, the results showed that when the lowest quartile of fiber intake is compared to all higher levels combined, the risk of developing tinnitus increases dramatically. For instance, it increased by 54 percent for those with the lowest intake of cereal fiber and increased by 65 percent for those with the lowest intake of fruit fiber.
Based on previous findings, the researchers believe the protective effects of insoluble fiber from cereals and the skins of fruits are due to reduced insulin sensitivity and therefore, better blood sugar control.
They write that “low insulin sensitivity contributes to the development of inner ear disturbances which could explain the observed association with ten-year incidence of tinnitus.”
In addition, dietary fiber is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers added that “it is possible that our findings are the result of dietary fiber reducing the risk of vascular health indices and thereby, reducing the risk of developing tinnitus.”