Around 50 million Americans get that annoying ringing, roaring, whistling, hissing, clanging or shrieking sound in their ears. Tinnitus often occurs because the tiny hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, producing constant stimulation of aural nerves. There are many factors that contribute to this condition, including exposure to loud noise, aging, medications, hearing loss, allergies and stress. Several food or food additives can also trigger or exacerbate ringing in the ear.
If you have tinnitus, you may want to think about kicking that diet soda habit for good. Some researchers suspect aspartame might have a connection to tinnitus. Though a definitive link between the two has yet to be proven, the reason aspartame is considered suspect is that some components of it may be toxic to the brain and the inner ear – two organs that are particularly sensitive to neurotoxins. Specifically, phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol become toxic after periods of long storage or exposure to heat.
Many people with tinnitus report worse symptoms after eating salty food, according to the American Tinnitus Association. Salt restricts blood vessels, increasing blood pressure within the major arteries while reducing blood flow into the eyes, ears and brain. Snack foods, fast foods and processed foods tend to contain large amounts of salt.
Salicylates are naturally occurring chemicals that protect plants against bacteria, pests and disease. People with salicylate sensitivity can have adverse reactions to the accumulation of salicylates in their body. People with tinnitus can experience a worsening of their symptoms when exposed to salicylates, according to the Journal of Neurosciences. Foods that contain salicylates include fruits such as dried fruit, blackberries, blueberries, boysenberry, oranges, pineapples, raisins, raspberries, strawberries and tangerines. Vegetables with salicylates include peppers, tomatoes, and canned green olives. Other foods with salicylates include almonds, peanuts with skins on, coconut oil, olive oil, processed lunch meats, corn syrup, honey, jams and peppermint.
For various reasons, several beverages can trigger or worsen tinnitus symptoms. Red wine, grain-based spirits such as rum and beer, cider, sherry and brandy all contain high to very high levels of salicylates. Beverages that contain caffeine such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate and energy drinks also exacerbate tinnitus, according to American Tinnitus Association. Caffeine may exacerbate tinnitus in some people by increasing blood pressure and stimulating nerve cell activity.
A significant portion of people with tinnitus have a sugar metabolism problem called hyperinsulinemia, according to the National Institutes of Health. Hyperinsulinemia occurs when the body develops an insensitivity to insulin and therefore fails to break sugar down and deliver it to cells. This resulting excess of glucose in the blood stream causes the pancreas to release more insulin. People with tinnitus who maintain a diabetic diet may experience an improvement in their tinnitus symptoms.
Although fats do not necessarily cause an immediate exacerbation of tinnitus symptoms, foods with saturated and trans fats contribute to poor circulation and reduce blood flow. A diet high in these unhealthy fats increases bad cholesterol and decreases good cholesterol, affecting long-term heart health and potentially heightening the severity of ringing in the ears. Foods high in trans and saturated fats include fried foods, whole milk, butter, shortening, ice cream, fatty meats like pork and beef, chicken skin and fat, snack foods and candy.