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Ménière's Syndrome

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Initially, David Henderson didn't think much of the strange sensation of fullness in his right ear. It felt as though he was in a descending airplane. "Only, the feeling didn't go away," says the now-retired retailer, who was 58 at the time.

Initially, David Henderson didn’t think much of the strange sensation of fullness in his right ear. It felt as though he was in a descending airplane. “Only, the feeling didn’t go away,” says the now-retired retailer, who was 58 at the time.

Then, one day, Henderson’s world literally began spinning around him. While pointing out an item to a customer at his clothing store, he became so dizzy he had to grab hold of the shelving. At home, he recalls, “It would get so bad that sometimes I would have to crawl on my hands and knees to get to bed.” It took four years before doctors finally diagnosed him with Ménière's syndrome (also known, less accurately, as Ménière's disease).

This devastating inner-ear disorder afflicts 46 out of 100,000 mostly middle-aged people according to the Portland, Oregon-based Vestibular Disorders Association. Ménière's stems from excess production of a fluid called endolymph. Like the liquid in a carpenter’s level, endolymph moves inside the ear canals according to the tilt of the body, signalling to the brain our position relative to our surroundings. But if the ear canals become inflamed or swollen with too much fluid, the signals go haywire, resulting in the frightening symptoms of Ménière's - vertigo, dizziness, nausea, loss of hearing, and a continuous ringing in the ear (tinnitus).

An Autoimmune Disorder?

Tests done on people with Ménière's reveal immune complex deposits in the endolymphatic sac. Though not conclusive, results strongly suggest that an abnormal immune reaction may be at the root of the syndrome. Indeed, Ménière's exhibits many characteristics of an autoimmune disorder. It waxes and wanes in severity and frequency, with some people going into remission for years before relapsing. And many well-known triggers of autoimmunity - infections, dental fillings, environmental toxins, smoking, stress, certain drugs and foods&also appear guilty of setting off Ménière's.

Of all the suspected triggers, none has come under greater scrutiny than sodium. Its presence indirectly controls the level of fluids in the body, including that of endolymph. One celebrated study of Ménière's sufferers found that restricting their intake of salt (the most common form of sodium), as well as flour, wheat, eggs, chocolate, corn, and mayonnaise resulted in a sharp decline in attacks. Moreover, those who went back to an unrestricted diet soon reported a recurrence of symptoms.

The best policy for people with Ménière's, according to most dietary experts, is to eschew salt-laden, processed foods in favour of fresh and/or whole foods. Not only does this reduce the amount of sodium in the body, but it also provides nutrients that help repair dysfunctional immune systems.

Back On His Feet

After one particularly bad attack left him cut and bruised, finding a way out of the Ménière's nightmare became Henderson’s number-one priority. With the help of his wife Karin, a nurse, Henderson looked for a treatment that would give his body what it needed to heal. In conjunction with a moderate exercise regimen and a low-fat, low-sodium diet, he began taking pharmaceutical-grade supplements that included a potent antioxidant to stop the swelling. He also took ginkgo for improved blood circulation and calcium to regenerate the bone structure of the inner ear.

Henderson is back on his feet again, no longer a prisoner in his own home. Physically regaining his balance and stability has enabled him to move on psychologically and emotionally. “I can do anything I want to now,” he says, “and my family no longer has to tiptoe around me.” The Maple Ridge, BC, resident now spends much of his time responding to queries from around the world, assuring other people with Ménière's that there is hope - and that it lies in the body’s ability to heal itself.

Getting to the Point

In search for relief, many people with Ménière's turn to alternative therapies such as biofeedback, reflexology, hypnotheropy, music therapy, hyperbaric treatments, and aromatherapy. One in particular, acupuncture, has been shown to make a real difference. According to the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, a study of 34 Ménière's patients found that vertigo attacks ceased in approximately 80% of cases after a single acupuncture treatment.

Supplements to combat Ménière's

Vitamin A: 5,000 IU daily. Improves function of the ear’s receptor cells.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 100 mg daily. Inhibits the release of histamine, helps relieve stress and is necessary for energy production.

Vitamin B12 sublingual tablet: 1,000 mcg daily. Restores possible deficiency and ensures adequate iron.

Vitamin D and calcium: 500 IU vitamin D and 1,000 mg calcium daily. Helps strengthen bone structure of the ear.

Magnesium: 500 to 1,000 mg twice daily. (Those with kidney dysfunction should consult with their physicians before taking magnesium.) Promotes proper blood flow in the ear.

Ginkgo biloba: 200 mg (standardized to 24-percent flavoglycosides) daily. Reduces tinnitus and improves circulation.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids, fish oil or flax seed oil: 1,000 mg three times daily of fish oil and one to two tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) of flax seed oil. Helps reduce sensory-neural hearing impairment and stabilizes the immune system.

Source: Healthy Immunity: Scientifically Proven Natural Treatments for Conditions from A-Z, by Lorna Vanderhaeghe (John Wiley & Sons, 2001).

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