Do you or your child need to wear headphones when you are in noisy places? Do hand dryers, fire alarms, hoovers and lawn mowers really bother you? Do you calm right down when you listen to white noise instead? While the causes of noise sensitivity are complex and multifaceted, research is emerging that low levels of magnesium and vitamin B6 may play a role.
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What is sound sensitivity?
The world can seem like a very loud place for some ears, Noise sensitivity is a common experience for many adults, teens and children with a neurodivergent brain, including people with neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder. It’s also not unusual for children to be sensitive to sounds. This sensitivity can cause significant distress and discomfort and can even interfere with daily activities such as work, school, and socialising.
Sound sensitivity is complex and diverse and there can be a number or presentations including:
- Phonophobia – a persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of everyday sounds such as the noise of traffic, a kettle boiling or doors closing.
- Hyperacusis – manifests as a reduced tolerance to ordinary environmental sounds and speech where sounds can feel unbearably loud and painful. This can also be worse in crowded, noisy classrooms as well as at gatherings such as parties.
- Misophonia – is when people get emotionally upset by common sounds such as other people eating, chewing or yawning.
- Tinnitus – a ringing or buzzing in the ears which can wax and wane. This is often accompanied by vertigo and dizziness.
If a person with sound sensitivity is non-speaking or unable to easily express their noise sensitivity, signs that they find the noise too overwhelming can include:
- Covering ears
- Anger outbursts or rage
- Shutting down or refusing to interact
- Difficulty focusing
There can be many other reasons for these behaviours, but it is probably noise-sensitivity if these symptoms/behaviours are ameliorated by wearing headphones or moving to a quiet space away from the irritating noises.
All these auditory problems can be exacerbated when there are existing auditory processing problems, glue ear or frequent ear infections. Viruses and other infections may play a role in making these worse and several studies have found that the Covid-19 virus can exacerbate sound and noise sensitivity, even if the infection itself only brought mild symptoms at the time. It is thought that many of these sound sensitivities are neurological in nature and chronic neural inflammation may play a role. Both magnesium and Vitamin B6 are key nutrients for the health of the neurological system.
What is Magnesium and Vitamin B6?
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in many bodily processes, including nerve function, blood pressure regulation, and the production of energy. It is also involved in the regulation of the NMDA receptor, which is important for processing sensory information in the brain. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to a range of neurological and psychological conditions, including tics, twitches, anxiety and depression as well as poor blood sugar balancing.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in many metabolic actions of the nervous system, including the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine as well as GABA. Low levels of vitamin B6 have been linked to a range of exacerbations of neurological differences, including ADHD and autism. The Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate form of Vitamin B6 is the most bio-available form for the body to assimilate and is recommended.
How are these nutrients linked with noise sensitivity?
In recent years, researchers have begun to investigate the link between magnesium and noise sensitivity in neurodivergent people. It is well established that people with autism and ADHD often have lower levels of magnesium and Vitamin B6 in their blood compared to more neurotypical people and some research suggests that if you are low in either or both nutrients, sound sensitivity can become more exacerbated.
While more research is needed to fully understand the link between magnesium, vitamin B6, and noise sensitivity in neurodiverse individuals, these studies suggest that increasing magnesium and vitamin B6 levels may be a potential treatment option for noise sensitivity for some people.
One way to increase magnesium and vitamin B6 levels is through dietary changes. Foods that are high in magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains, while foods that are high in vitamin B6 include fish, poultry, and bananas. These are healthy foods in many other ways and most people would benefit from including more of them in their diets anyway.
In some cases, however, dietary changes alone may not be sufficient to increase magnesium and vitamin B6 levels to the extent needed to alleviate noise sensitivity. In these cases, supplementation may be necessary. Before beginning any supplement regimen, it is important to speak with a nutritional therapist or naturopath to ensure that it is appropriate for that person’s specific nutritional needs.
Overall, while the link between magnesium, vitamin B6, and noise sensitivity in neurodiverse individuals is still being explored, these nutrients offer promising potential for alleviating these common and often distressing symptoms related to sound sensitivity. By working with a qualified practitioner who specifically understands the nutrient needs of the neurodivergent mind, people with noise sensitivity may be able to experience greater peace, comfort and quality of life.
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