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 Tinnitus and Your Diet

Tinnitus hearing pain problems

Imagine constantly hearing a ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in your ears that no one else can hear.
This mysterious noise is known as tinnitus, and it affects around 15-20% of people worldwide, with varying degrees of intensity. For some, tinnitus is a minor annoyance, but for others, it can be life-altering, leading to sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, and even anxiety or depression.1

While tinnitus is often believed to be linked to hearing loss, ear injuries, or circulatory issues, emerging research shows that nutrition plays a crucial role the development and severity of this frustrating condition.

In this two-part article, we will dive into the fascinating connection between what we eat and tinnitus. We’ll explore how nutrient deficiencies, exposure to toxic substances, and biochemical imbalances can contribute to the onset and persistence of tinnitus, and the steps you can take to get relief.

Understanding Tinnitus

Tinnitus, derived from the Latin word for “ringing,” is the perception of sound when no external sound is present. People with tinnitus might hear a variety of noises, such as ringing, buzzing, hissing, clicking, or even roaring. These phantom sounds can be intermittent or continuous, and they vary in pitch and intensity, sometimes disrupting daily activities and sleep.

Tinnitus is not a disease itself but a symptom of an underlying condition. It can be likened to the body’s alarm system, signaling that something is amiss within the auditory system or related physiological processes.

According to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus affects approximately 50 million people in the United States alone, with about 20 million experiencing chronic symptoms and 2 million enduring severe, debilitating tinnitus.2

Common Causes and Risk Factors of Tinnitus

Several known factors can contribute to the development of tinnitus:

  1. Hearing Loss: Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) and noise-induced hearing loss are two of the most common causes. Damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear, essential for sound transmission, can lead to the perception of tinnitus.
  2. Ear Infections and Blockages: Infections or blockages in the ear, such as earwax buildup or eustachian tube dysfunction, can alter the pressure within the ear and cause tinnitus.
  3. Head and Neck Injuries: Trauma to the head or neck can affect the auditory nerves or brain function linked to hearing, potentially leading to tinnitus.
  4. Medications: Certain medications, including high doses of antibiotics, diuretics, aspirin, and chemotherapy drugs, are known to be ototoxic (harmful to the ear) and can induce or worsen tinnitus.
  5. Circulatory System Disorders: Conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), and malformations of blood vessels can disrupt blood flow to the inner ear, leading to tinnitus.

While auditory and neurological factors play significant roles in tinnitus, the influence of nutritional factors cannot be overlooked.

Nutrient Deficiencies Linked to Tinnitus

Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining the health of nerve cells, including those involved in auditory processing. It plays a critical role in the formation of myelin, the protective sheath around nerves that ensures efficient signal transmission.

Research has demonstrated a significant link between vitamin B12 deficiency and tinnitus. A study published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology found that patients with tinnitus had notably lower levels of B12 compared to those without the condition.3

Vitamin B12 is naturally found only in animal foods. To ensure adequate intake of vitamin B12, enjoy foods including grass-fed beef, bison and lamb, liver, wild seafood (especially clams and mussels), and eggs.

Animal Sources of Vitamin B12

  • Clams: 3 oz. – 84.1 µg
  • Beef Liver: 3 oz. – 70.7 µg
  • Mackerel: 3 oz. – 16.1 µg
  • Mussels: 3 oz. – 20.4 µg
  • Sardines: 3 oz. – 7.6 µg
  • Salmon: 3 oz. – 4.9 µg
  • Beef (ground): 3 oz. – 2.4 µg
  • Lamb: 3 oz. – 2.7 µg
  • Chicken Breast: 3 oz. – 0.3 µg
  • Eggs: 1 large – 0.6 µg
  • Milk: 1 cup – 1.2 µg
  • Yogurt: 1 cup – 1.1 µg


Zinc is vital for the proper functioning of the cochlea, the spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear that plays a key role in hearing. It is involved in the modulation of synaptic transmission and auditory signal processing.

Studies have indicated that zinc deficiency is prevalent among tinnitus sufferers. In fact, a clinical trial revealed that zinc supplementation significantly improved tinnitus symptoms in patients with low baseline zinc levels.4

Excellent sources of zinc include oysters, grass-fed beef, bison and lamb, crab, and pumpkin seeds. Here’s a list of the best sources and amounts:

Animal Sources of Zinc

Paleo-Friendly Plant Sources of Zinc

  • Pumpkin Seeds: 1 oz. – 2.2 mg
  • Cashews: 1 oz. – 1.6 mg
  • Hemp Seeds: 1 oz. – 2 mg
  • Almonds: 1 oz. – 0.9 mg
  • Spinach (cooked): 1 cup – 1.4 mg
hearing difficulties pain in ear


Magnesium helps protect the inner ear from damage by supporting blood flow and combating oxidative stress. It also plays a role in maintaining the health of the auditory nerves.

Several studies have linked magnesium deficiency to an increased risk of tinnitus. Research published in the International Tinnitus Journal found that patients with tinnitus had significantly lower magnesium levels compared to the general population.5

To ensure adequate intake, consume magnesium-rich foods such as mackerel, cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach, dark chocolate and avocados. Here’s a list of the best sources and amounts:

Animal Sources of Magnesium

Paleo-Friendly Plant Sources of Magnesium

  • Almonds: 1 oz. – 80 mg
  • Cashews: 1 oz. – 74 mg
  • Pumpkin Seeds: 1 oz. – 168 mg
  • Spinach (cooked): 1 cup – 157 mg
  • Avocado: 1 medium – 58 mg
  • Dark Chocolate (70-85% cocoa): 1 oz. – 64 mg
  • Chia Seeds: 1 oz. – 95 mg6
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Iron deficiency, leading to anemia, can impair oxygen delivery to the ear, affecting auditory function and potentially contributing to tinnitus.

A study in the journal Laryngoscope found a correlation between iron-deficiency anemia and the occurrence of hearing disorders, including tinnitus.7

To prevent or correct iron deficiency, incorporate iron-rich foods such as grass-fed beef, bison and lamb, pastured pork and poultry, and wild seafood especially oysters, clams, mackerel, and scallops.  While you can obtain iron from plant sources, it is in the form of non-heme iron, which is more poorly absorbed. Here’s a list of the best sources and amounts of iron:

Animal Sources of Iron (Heme Iron)

Paleo-Friendly Plant Sources of Iron (Non-Heme Iron)

  • Spinach (cooked): 1 cup – 6.4 mg
  • Pumpkin Seeds: 1 oz. – 2.7 mg
  • Dark Chocolate (70-85% cocoa): 1 oz. – 3.3 mg
  • Potato (with skin): 1 medium – 2.1 mg

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and bone health, including the bones in the middle ear. It also supports overall cellular health, which is crucial for the function of the auditory system.

Research has indicated that low levels of vitamin D may be associated with an increased risk of tinnitus. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vitamin D deficiency was more common in individuals with tinnitus.8

Vitamin D should be obtained ideally from sun exposure, with vitamin D rich foods wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, egg yolks, beef liver wild salmon roe. If you supplement be sure to choose a high-quality option with cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and vitamin K2.  Here’s a list of the best sources and amounts of vitamin D:

Animal Sources of Vitamin D

  • Salmon (sockeye, cooked): 3 oz. – 570 IU
  • Mackerel (cooked): 3 oz. – 388 IU
  • Sardines (canned): 3 oz. – 164 IU
  • Cod Liver Oil: 1 tablespoon – 1,360 IU
  • Egg Yolk: 1 large – 44 IU
  • Beef Liver: 3 oz. – 42 IU
  • Salmon Roe: 1 oz. – 33 IU

In today’s article, you discovered the common causes and risk factors for tinnitus. You also discovered how deficiencies in vital nutrients can impact auditory function and increase your risk for this condition.

In understanding the connection between diet and tinnitus, it becomes evident that certain nutrient-rich foods play a crucial role in preventing and alleviating symptoms.

Foods like wild-caught salmon, sardines, and mackerel are not only rich in omega-3 fatty acids but also provide significant amounts of vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc—all essential for maintaining auditory health.  Leafy greens such as spinach and pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of magnesium and iron, while animal products like grass-fed beef, bison, and liver supply vital vitamin B12 and iron. Incorporating a variety of these nutrient-dense foods into your diet can help address deficiencies and support overall ear health, potentially reducing the risk and severity of tinnitus. Remember to consult with your healthcare provider to tailor dietary choices to your personal needs.

In part two, you’ll discover the four hidden toxic factors lurking in your diet and three biochemical imbalances that could be causing tinnitus, plus the steps you can take to get relief. Stay tuned!

For more insightful articles by Kelley and our trusted sources, visit our discover blog today!

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  1. “Tinnitus.” Mayo Clinic, Accessed 21 May 2024.
  2. American Tinnitus Association. “Understanding the Facts.” Accessed 21 May 2024
  3. Shemesh, Z., Attias, J., Ornan, M., Shapira, N., Shahar, A., & Sohmer, H. (1993). Vitamin B12 deficiency in patients with chronic-tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. American Journal of Otolaryngology, 14(2), 94-99.
  4. Arda, H. N., Tükel, H. C., Özluoglu, L. N., & Tuncer, Ü. (2003). The role of zinc in the treatment of tinnitus. Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, 128(4), 530-533.
  5. Attias, J., Weisz, N., Almog, S., Shahar, A., Wiener, M., & Uri, N. (2004). Oral magnesium intake reduces permanent hearing loss induced by noise exposure. American Journal of Otolaryngology, 25(5), 319-323.
  6. National Institutes of Health. Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Available online:
  7. Schieffer, K. M., Chinnici, J. E., & Oliaei, S. (2017). Iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss: effects and possible mechanisms. Laryngoscope, 127(8), 1973-1977.
  8. Pan, H. H., Wu, J. S., Su, H. L., Chen, S. H., & Wang, S. Y. (2021). Association between serum vitamin D levels and tinnitus in the general population: a retrospective case-control study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 113(4), 1002-1009.