Tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears) has commonly been treated solely as an ENT issue (ear, nose, and throat), even though the root cause is unclear. Many cases of tinnitus are thought to be caused by hearing disruption or problems in the inner ear, often from noise exposure.
Tinnitus can range from annoying to debilitating, causing many other problems resulting from the ringing, such as difficulty concentrating, sleep disruption, and mood disorders.
Traditional Chinese medicine treats tinnitus as an imbalance in specific organs. However, recent studies suggest that other types of imbalances (specifically dysbiosis – an imbalance of gut bacteria) could also play a role in the condition.
Recent evidence is uncovering the role of neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain) as a contributor to tinnitus – this has been discovered in mice. Mice with hearing loss were shown to have higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines and activated microglia, a cell in the primary auditory cortex. When experimenting on rats, after they were given inhibitors to block this type of inflammation, they no longer experienced tinnitus.
How does inflammation in the brain correlate with our gut microbes? Our gut bacteria plays a key role in these types of inflammatory responses. More specifically, our gut microbes communicate with their hosts, particularly with the central nervous system. This is known as the gut-brain axis.
This communication process involves how these bacteria function – secreting metabolites, signaling to molecules, etc. Imbalances in gut bacteria can dictate behavior in the immune system and various internal barriers (such as the gut lining and the blood-brain barrier). Therefore, an impaired gut-brain connection can create a variety of neurological ailments and symptoms… such as tinnitus.
While any dysbiosis in the gut will interfere with the gut-brain axis, causing inflammation, at this time, there are no definite conclusions about this link. Tinnitus remains an “unsolved clinical problem” without a known cure.
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