Caffeine might protect against ringing in the ears


Tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears, is a widespread but incurable condition that becomes more common in older age—but it appears that heavy coffee drinkers may have some protection against the disease. It is estimated that 50 million Americans have tinnitus, and 3 million of them are severely disabled by it. Doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston tracked the health of over 65,000 women—including their incidence of tinnitus—for 18 years as part of the Nurses’ Health Study II. They found that women who consumed 450 mg of caffeine each day (the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee) were 15% less likely to develop tinnitus; those who consumed 600 mg of caffeine or more each day (the equivalent of 4 cups or more of coffee) were 20% less likely to develop the condition. Most of the women in the study got their caffeine from drinking coffee, but because decaffeinated coffee didn’t seem to have any impact on tinnitus risk, the researchers believe that the effect is the result of the caffeine, not any other component of the coffee. Paradoxically, previous studies have suggested the opposite: that caffeine might increase a person’s sensitivity to tinnitus, making the condition seem worse, but this is the first large-scale study to address the question. The researchers still don’t know why caffeine has this effect—they think it may have something to do with how the stimulant interacts with the hair cells in the ear, which are injured in tinnitus. (Source: American Journal of Medicine; 2014; doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.02.033)

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