My mother is an active, healthy 75-year-old. Her diet is well balanced and she walks a lot every day. However, for several years she has suffered with tinnitus. Are there any herbs that would help?
—L.M., Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Stansbury responds: Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear, can drive a person mad. The cause often is elusive, and effective therapies are nonexistent unless an underlying cause can be identified. Virtually any ear pathology — from tumors and nerve problems to poor circulation and impacted earwax — can cause the unpleasant noise. The presence of dizziness, hearing loss, ear pain or recurrent ear infections may help narrow down the origin of tinnitus. Your mother sounds quite healthy and I trust she has had a thorough medical work-up to rule out any such pathologies or to identify something that could be treated directly.
In cases where no underlying ailment can be identified, herbs such as ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) that improve circulation to the head may help, though they may take several months to yield results. If your mother has any sort of circulatory difficulties, it would be especially worth a try. Other herbs that may improve circulation to the head include rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and gotu kola (Centella asiatica). Herbs that might allay nerve and/or vascular inflammation include St. John’s wort and hawthorn berries (Crataegus spp.).
I suggest taking multiple B vitamins for three to four months, as deficiencies can cause nerve inflammation and it becomes harder to absorb these vitamins as we age.
Willard responds: I must admit, tinnitus is one of the most difficult problems facing a health practitioner — it’s annoying and hard to eliminate. Chinese theory suggests it has more to do with the capillary bed in the kidney than the ears. Chinese practitioners seem to have more success than most when treating tinnitus, by prescribing kidney tonics high in flavonoids.
The herb I’ve had the most success with for treating tinnitus is ginkgo extract. In several studies, 40 percent to 74 percent improvement was reported for patients with persistent ringing in the ears, vertigo and hearing loss. Another study reported an 88 percent success rate with 49 patients suffering from various problems, including hearing loss and ringing in the ear. I have not found the success rate that high — I’ve found it to be more like 50 to 60 percent, but that’s still higher than anything else I’ve tried. I usually give 240 mg of ginkgo extract, twice daily. It takes about six weeks to see results.
I also use a Chinese tonic called Shih Chuan Ta Pu Wan that can be obtained wherever Chinese medicines are found. This is a great tonic for the kidney and has helped quite a lot. As manufactures vary the packaging of this product, refer to the dosage instructions that accompany it.
Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal.
Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than 10 years, with a private practice in Battleground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).
The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.