Millions of Americans are affected by vertigo. It’s essentially the sense that you, or the world (or both) are not in balance. It can be dizziness. It can be disorientation. It can sometimes lead to nausea and vomiting. It’s one of these afflictions that doesn’t sound THAT bad until you have it. You basically can’t function normally. Driving is a challenge, or even impossible. It’s hard to sleep. It affects your ability to concentrate and work.
There are several potential causes for vertigo. Let’s go through them and then we’ll talk about some natural ways to alleviate or get rid of vertigo. But first we need to understand how we keep our balance normally in the first place.
This is achieved by the relative positioning of tiny bones in your inner ear. These bones, called the ossicles bones when grouped together (and called the malleus, incus and stapes respectively), are incredibly delicate and send signals to your brain about where they are in relationship to each other.
So to try and illustrate: These bones are all positioned near each other. Your brain very intimately knows where they are. When that position changes (say the bone on the bottom suddenly feels as though it’s actually on the top using gravity as a reference point), your brain gets the signal that you are upside down rather than right side up. That’s how balance works.
All of the causes of vertigo have something to do with an interruption or interference with the signals between your brain and these bones.
One common cause is BPPV, which stands for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.
The interference here is the buildup of calcium crystals in the inner ear. This screws up the signaling between the inner ear and the brain.
Another common cause is Meniere’s Disease, where the buildup of fluid in the inner ear again interferes with the signals.
Vestibular neuritis (or labyrinthitis) is usually a viral infection in the inner ear where the tissue around your ossicles bones becomes inflamed.
These are the three most common causes. However, you can get vertigo from a bump on the head, or as the result of various medications, or when migraine headaches get particularly bad.
Curing vertigo by addressing root causes
The number one recommendation I can give for vertigo is chiropractic care. Adjustments to the cervical vertebrae have been shown to help quite a bit with vertigo. In fact, one type of vertigo, called cervicogenic vertigo, is directly related to a misalignment of the cervical vertebrae. A 1991 article in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found a 90% success rate of curing this type of vertigo with chiropractic adjustments. While not the root cause of, say, vestibular neuritis, chiropractic care does help you feel better.
Interesting little side story—though related—has to do with ears and chiropractic. The origin story of the entire field of chiropractic has to do with a spinal manipulation that fixed a man’s ears. In 1895, the founder of chiropractic, D.D. Palmer, was working in his office. A very loud fire engine went by and Palmer noticed the janitor didn’t react at all to the sound.
Palmer went to talk to the man and found out he had been deaf for 17 years. The story was that, while working, the janitor made an unnatural movement, felt a pop in his back, and had been deaf ever since.
Finding this particularly interesting, Palmer examined the man’s back, felt a vertebrae out of alignment and moved it back into place manually. Suddenly, the man could hear.
It’s one of these epic stories chiropractors love to tell around the campfire, and while true, it doesn’t mean you should send me all the deaf people you know so I can heal them. The janitor’s deafness was originally caused by a spinal misalignment, and was fixed by a spinal re-alignment. Find the cause, find the cure, right?
The story serves to illustrate that spinal manipulation can affect the ears, and where vertigo takes place in the inner ears, it can often help with vertigo.
Beyond that, there are several exercises that are useful to alleviate vertigo in the long term.
One, called the Brandt-Daroff exercise, goes like this:
- Start in an upright, seated position.
- Move into the lying position on one side with your nose pointed up at about a 45-degree angle.
- Remain in this position for about 30 seconds (or until the vertigo subsides, whichever is longer).
- Then repeat the process lying on the other side. Do this each time you get a spell of vertigo.
There are other exercises you can easily find on YouTube, and you should, but let’s consider some dietary factors to keep things moving.
For any type of vertigo, it’s important not to indulge in high-sodium foods, alcohol, caffeine and fried foods. (Note: high sodium does not include sea salt. It is referring to processed foods and such that are high in table salt/sodium chloride.)
These foods contribute to inflammation, which makes vertigo worse because inflammation in the inner ear is a major cause of inflammation.
To help lower inflammation in the inner ear (and elsewhere), you can eat anti-inflammatory foods like ginger, turmeric, broccoli, beets, blueberries, pineapple (particularly bromelein from the core of the pineapple), nuts, garlic, celery, bok choy.
Foods high in magnesium also help with inner-ear issues. That would include fatty fish – salmon, tuna, mackerel – but that really includes halibut. Also, many nuts are high in magnesium – brazil nuts, almonds, cashews.
For Meniere’s Disease in particular, research has found a clear connection to stress. So you’ve got to find ways to manage your stress.
That might include meditation, prayer or some sort of creative outlet, whether that’s painting, building furniture, playing the piano or whatever.
It also helps to get outside. Exposure to sunlight and fresh air is great for lowering stress. Learn breathing exercises. Consider going to therapy to identify stress triggers and learn methods to cope with them.
In the case of vestibular neuritis in particular, where a viral infection is causing the problem, if you can get rid of the virus, you can get rid of the vertigo.
Drinking a few drops of oregano oil in a glass of water twice a day can get rid of a persistent viral infection. Also add more garlic, turmeric and ginger to your diet. They are strong anti-virals. Both of these foods can help mitigate the feelings of nausea that sometimes accompanies vertigo.
Much of your ability to reduce your viral load comes down to the strength of your immune system. The combination of smart lifestyle choices and a strong immune system can fight off inflammation and viral infections.
One major and often-overlooked component of your immune system is the bacteria in your gut. When we take antibiotics, eat inflammation-causing foods, don’t sleep enough, don’t manage our stress, etc., the bacteria in our gut suffers.
These bacteria are crucial for your immune system. They signal your immune system to gear up for attack when they notice a pathogen as they are in direct communication with the majority of your lymph system (which is in your small intestine – cells called dendritic cells).
This means avoiding antibiotics if at all possible. They kill the good bacteria along with the bad and it’s very difficult and lengthy to rebuild the microbiome.
Probiotic supplements can help, but most often only contain a few strains of helpful bacteria where you need several hundred different strains for a healthy balance. Your best bet is to eat fermented foods – sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, lasi, grass-fed raw yogurt and cheese, etc. These have a diverse group of bacterial strains.
The quick vertigo summary
To avoid vertigo, avoid inflammation by eating anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding foods high in sodium, rancid oils, additives, sugar, pesticides, etc.
If you have vertigo, determine the cause (calcium buildup, virus, inflammation, cervical mis-alignment) and address that.
Supplement your efforts by vertigo-specific exercises.
Get regular chiropractic adjustments.