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Can Curcumin (Turmeric) Help Tinnitus?

There is a study currently in Michigan on the effects of highly bioavailable curcumin on tinnitus scores (the TFI and THI questionnaires we use to find out how badly people are affected by their T).

Bioavailability refers to how well the body takes in the medicine or compound in question.  This is important because a dose of curcumin is no good if it doesn’t absorb well, or is neutralised by stomach acid etc.

Stress causes inflammation, this has been proven by studies which look for inflammation ‘markers’ in the body (one of these is TNF alpha, a protein and a cytokine).  It is also thought that loud noise exposure increases these markers, and loud noise exposure is strongly related to tinnitus.  

It is thought that inflammation may be the mechanism that creates acute tinnitus after noise exposure.  Loud noise causes a flood of inflammation through the auditory pathway*.  Inflammation “over excites” the auditory pathway** (the series of nerve connections between ear and brain), if you like. 

These studies have looked at the creation of tinnitus, and acute tinnitus.  It’s not so clear about how chronic (long lasting tinnitus) is caused, although neuroplasticity (ability of the brain to change/adapt) may be the reason why people get permanent tinnitus after the original inflammation has gone.

So, we are getting a growing pile of studies on animals and humans linking inflammation to tinnitus.  What is happening to find a cure for inflammation?  One reader on my tinnitus support group page suggested curcumin for tinnitus. The idea behind this seems to be that if you reduce inflammation you can reduce the tinnitus signal (make it seem quieter).

Curcumin has had a recent study*** which gave rats curcumin at the same time as a chemo drug called cisplatin.  Cisplatin has a negative effect on hearing, and this study found that the negative effects were modestly reduced when curcumin was given.  This is a small study and it’s on animals, so it’s not brilliant, but it shows that curcumin can have a positive effect against ototoxic medicine.

An earlier study found that curcumin reduced the damage done by gentamicin (an ototoxic antibiotic) and salicylate.  These ototoxic drugs reduce glutathione levels, which is one of our natural antioxidants.  Curcumin definitively helped protect against some of the hearing damage.

So… we know then that curcumin has a positive effect on ears.  It is an antioxidant and anti inflammatory agent.  N Acetyl Cysteine (antioxidant) is otoprotective also.

Since hearing damage causes tinnitus, it is not a reach to say that reducing damage with curcumin might also reduce tinnitus.  Note though, that this is not the same as saying curcumin can reduce tinnitus that you already have.  It is not the same as saying it can repair damage already done.  Indeed, another placebo-controlled study in 2022 found no effect on existing tinnitus.  This was a randomised control, blinded, placebo study on humans (a good one).  It used 80mg curcumin.

Curcumin was administered in these studies directly through the stomach wall.  Doses were ~300mg per kilo of body weight in some of these studies - that’s a lot!

The Michigan study is the one to watch, and I look forward to seeing the results, but so far I can’t see a reason why curcumin would relieve existing tinnitus, especially not in small doses which may or may not be absorbed well.  If you take it for protective benefits during treatment with toxic medicine, that seems fine as long as you tolerate it well.  

As with most supplements, be wary of the dose you’re getting, and the money you’re being charged.  Discontinue the supplement if it doesn’t work for you, and please do consider getting help to habituate to your T as it will make a measurable difference.  Relaxation and taking care of your mental health and stress levels should be priority one if you suffer from tinnitus distress.

And finally, there have been reports from Tinnitus Talk of people taking so much turmeric that they've turned yellow. Please be careful, as almost anything can be harmful in large enough quantities.

*Menink at al, 2022

** e.g. Adcock and Vanneste, 2022

***Arwanda et al, 2023

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