Bothered by “ringing in the ears?” Mindfulness meditation may help relieve tinnitus, but there are extra things a person can do. This is a comment on “Rethinking Tinnitus: When The Ringing Won’t Stop, Clear Your Mind” on Morning Edition 18 July 2011. I suggest that the mindfulness meditation that is being promoted by these doctors as a method for stress reduction is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the level of training of the nervous system using mindfulness techniques that can be achieved. I bring in the different levels of consciousness that can be tapped using this technique. I discuss the possibility that toxins are causing the tinnitus and how mindfulness along with other mind-body medicine techniques can relieve the symptoms, possibly getting rid of the tinnitus altogether.
Updated: 18 July 2013
NPR Reporter Allison Aubrey reports on research at the University of California, San Francisco using mindfulness techniques learned in meditation to treat tinnitus sufferers. The researchers used MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that was previously successful in treating patients with chronic pain or arthritis. The emphasis was on using breathing to control and direct the focus of the mind away from the ringing in the ears. It does not get rid of the ringing. Critical to this technique is developing the ability to separate all the “anxiety, thoughts and emotions” about the ringing from the physical sensation of the ringing.
My Comments Posted at NPR
“The one thing that people will get from this report is that mindfulness techniques just involve clearing the mind, and nothing could be farther from the truth. NICABM has done conferences on Mindfulness and often streams them live online. Mindfulness means learning how to listen to your body. Yes, you learn to do this with meditation but this level of mindfulness is the equivalent of kindergartners learning to listen to the teacher. Actually analyzing what the teacher says and how to ask a question when you don’t understand comes after much more practice. When combined with Muscle Reflex Testing (Applied Kinesiology), the patient can find where the problem is in the body and teach it how to get rid of it. I say much more on this topic at “Using Mindfulness to Treat Tinnitus” at https://marthalhyde.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/using-mindfulness-to-treat-tinnitus.
Yes, as suggested in a previous posting at this site, metal toxins might be a cause as well. See my extended comments at the above website.”
Causes & Treatment
There are emotional links to the tinnitus, e.g. the anxiety about the fact that there is ringing in the ear. These links can even prevent functional and productive thought and other activities. Mindfulness techniques through meditation can reduce these problems, but they do not truly unlink them until you find the place in the brain where the links are. Most people think that surgery is the only way to do this. However, we can use the same methods as mentioned above, but with additional help from other mind-body medical techniques to not only disconnect these links, but also to find and repair the damage. After all, when the psychotherapist suggests analogies to what the patient feels, the brain uses these analogies to provide its own method for treatment. It sometimes finds the inappropriate links this way and disconnects them. Thus, awareness of a process of conscious thought can affect the process of unconscious thinking.
The Role of Toxins
Suppose that in civilians, tinnitus is mostly caused by toxins that pool at the bottom of the cranium. If this is so, they would interfere with transmission of sound in the brain, usually at the level of the auditory nerve as it passes out of the inner ear and enters the mesencephalon at the bottom of the brain. However, they would mostly affect the signal analysis that occurs at the top of the mesencephalon, the inferior colliculus. Thus, it is extremely hard to figure out whether the physical damage is to the hearing mechanical apparatus or to the brain itself.
A patient could pick up those toxins in the dentist’s office easily (you can consciously smell most of them, unconsciously, others). If they settle on the bottom of the brain case, it is probably because the flow of interstitial fluid from outside the brain case to inside (through the foramen magnum) has been disrupted, which will happen with anesthesia or sleep. I have used mindfulness techniques to remove toxins and to repair damaged tissue that hasn’t been repaired for years (see my blog post “Mindfulness Techniques“)
Soldiers, no doubt, suffer from tinnitus that comes directly from all the explosions. They have also been exposed to a lot of chemicals associated with those explosions or the heavy equipment they use. Gulf War syndrome (Health Encyclopedia) sounds a lot like over-exposure to petrochemical fumes, to which soldiers serving near oilfields were definitely exposed. Soldiers serving in areas where they are exposed to a lot of toxins will have suffered damage from the toxins, which then sets up the inner ear mechanism for severe damage by explosions and gunfire blasts next to their ears. Toxic damage to the innervation of the stapedius and tensor tympani will not allow the dampening of the sound of a blast to the ears, thus damaging the round window of the cochlea, the tympanic membrane and even the two ear muscles.
Finding the Damage
Mindfulness techniques can teach the brain to find the damage and alert you when you need to consciously step in to direct their repair. Very often, blood supply has been damaged, which then limits the rest of the repair chain. Since we all suffer from damaged capillaries, the damage accumulating during a lifetime, it is obvious that local mechanisms cease to be able to initiate the repair for some reason (people erroneously refer to this as “aging”). The brain normally cannot step in to repair them if it cannot get signals from the cells found near the damage. Furthermore, Visualization Techniques (or guided imagery), can help the brain identify the components that have been damaged.
By thinking about the process of repair, helping the brain to its exact location, because you know enough about the anatomy of the ear to guide the unconscious brain to its probable location, the unconscious brain starts to “ping” the area to see who responds and who does not. If normal responses do not occur, you just taught it where the problem was and how to test, for itself. I have had almost instantaneous blood flow return to areas that had not gotten an adequate supply for years, signaled by, e.g. a sudden warming of cold hands. In the latter case it was only after extensive repair and removal of toxins from the skin and other organs, but it was sudden when the last major repair was achieved.
In my past treatments, when I discovered a lot of toxic elements in the brain case interstitial fluid, I got mild cases of tinnitus often. It stopped completely when I managed to get rid of all the toxins. Not all toxins will cause it. Usually those chemical elements that we call metals will be the most responsible (See Toxins). Other toxins are compounds of metals with magnesium bromides. These discoveries should not surprise us, since they are precisely the kind of chemicals that will irritate all nerves. Metals will combine with those ions whose movement is necessary for nerve transduction, e.g. sodium, calcium, and chlorine. All of these are very high in concentration in the air that soldiers will breathe (as well as automotive workers, construction workers, welders, etc.)
Magnesium bromides can interfere with the movement of acetylcholine at the synapse. Thus, their effect can be on both the CNS and peripheral innervation, depending upon where the toxins are pooled. Magnesium bromides normally are confined to the kidney, formed there for temporary reasons. In the kidney, when phosphates are taken out of the urine, magnesium bromides rapidly move phosphates through interstitial fluids to the capillaries, so that sodium will not readily combine with the phosphates, messing up the counter-current multiplier effect so necessary for kidney function.
Treatment at Different Levels in the Brain
The problem with the MBSR method of mindfulness being taught to the tinnitus sufferers in this report is that the aim is at a higher level than where the damage is in the brain, a place further along in the circuitry where it enters the conscious brain. No repairs will be made because there is no damage at this level, or if the brain is blocked from repairing the damage. Instead the patient is telling the conscious brain how to set up a “workaround”, or cover-up for this case. The brain often does a “workaround” for those things that keep being a problem for which the brain has no solution.
However, usually with a loss of sensation, e.g. hearing loss, the map of the relevant area in the neocortex should reorganize, similar to what has been shown to happen in people who have had a limb amputated (Ramachandran & Rogers-Ramachandran 2000). They often complain of pain in a hand that is no longer there. Yang et al. (2011) discuss how this could happen with tinnitus developing from hearing loss, using adult rats in the lab. If tinnitus in these animals is a “phantom” phenomenon, then the “damage” is localized to a map in the neocortex. Yang et al. (2011) show that hearing loss in the high-frequency range in rats causes a split in the functioning of two critical cortical areas, where one area reorganizes to “work around” the loss but the other area does not. They suggest that some biochemical changes in the neurons in one of these areas may prevent map reorganization. Treatment with some drugs might help alleviate symptoms, as they have shown in rats. However, they also suggest that future research may help us reorganize both maps, allowing the patient to get rid of tinnitus, even when they still can’t hear particular sound frequencies.
I propose that mindfulness techniques can actually be helpful at the unconscious level, closer to where the damage is itself, and where repair can actually be done. Such mechanisms as I have proposed above may probably be at the root of what is happening when patients suddenly have a spontaneous cure.
How can these patients be doing this kind of repair when they have no knowledge of anatomy or anything else that might be necessary for teaching the unconscious brain how to find damage or direct repair? I strongly suspect that the influence of doctors or others who do “know” (although are not consciously aware or thinking about this knowledge if they had it) would be transmitted to a patient by the sound of the voice (see my blog posting The Content of Our Voices). The voice carries electrical currents in the form of sound. The conversion of electric current to sound and back would be an automatic activity of the brain of both speaker and listener. Thus, the voice carries more than words that we process consciously. If the doctor were consciously thinking about all of the elements in the “chain of command” from the mechanical apparatus for hearing on up through the unconscious pathways to the conscious pathways where we recognize what we heard while talking with the patient who uses mindfulness and all of the techniques associated with its fullest use, the patient’s brain might begin to heal itself, having unconsciously learned what it needed to know as the doctor speaks and visualizes the parts that could be damaged.
The best way for a patient to get rid of the tinnitus is to learn enough anatomy, including the pathways involved in hearing, to help the brain check on every part of these pathways for damage. See my post Hearing Ability is Related to Emotions for more details. We know that the brain can heal itself, more or less, during sleep and at other times. However, the medical profession doesn’t know how much it does heal and what blocks it from healing in those cases where the patient cannot recover fully from traumatic brain injury. (However there are the examples cited above.) I strongly suspect that the full use of mind-body techniques may help the medical profession learn when full healing can be achieved in every patient. This means addressing emotional connections to damage, and combining both conscious and unconscious thought through mindfulness and muscle reflex/response testing to help the brain heal what could not be healed before.
Ramachandran, V. S. & Rogers-Ramachandran, D. (2000). Phantom limbs and neuroplasticity. Arch. Neurology 57(3), 317-320. [Freely Available].
Yang, S., Weiner, B. D., Zhang, L. S., Cho, S.-J. & Bao, S. (2011). Homeostatic plasticity drives tinnitus perception in an animal model. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(36), 14974-14979. [Freely Available].
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