Hearing Loss Associated with Insufficient Nutrients

Monday, November 28, 2016
By: Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

The latest statistics for hearing loss in the United States is staggering. Hearing loss is estimated to affect at least 23 percent of Americans age 12 and older. Most individuals suffer mild hearing loss, but age increases the hearing deficits. In fact, half of all people over the age of 65 experience age-related hearing loss. There are several common reasons that cause hearing loss, including loud noise, perforated eardrum, impacted earwax, and immune disorders. There is, however, a growing understanding that insufficient nutrients, mitochondria disorders, oxidative stress, and methylation disorders cause inflammatory stress to the inner ear, which then leads to hearing loss.  While one may think of only seniors as having hearing loss, these factors affect people of all ages.

[Jump to: Nutritional Options]

Inflammation and Hearing Loss

The activity of hearing is rarely thought about until it starts to fade away. Putting up with missing parts of conversations, hiding it, and other coping methods come into play. It is a sense that we cannot turn off, but we can protect it from damage. Protecting our hearing system against inflammation is fundamental to keeping this basic sense intact. Cumulative research shows age-related hearing loss occurs because of inflammation that damages the cochlea. The cochlea is the auditory part of the inner ear. It is a spiral shaped structure that translates sound into nerve impulses to be sent to the brain.

Common factors that challenge and worsen hearing are smoking, high-fat diet, age, exposure to noise at work, and more than 10 rounds of gun fire exposure.  These activities provoke a release of inflammatory cytokines in the cochlea. This causes aging of the structure and inflammation, known as inflamaging.  Lab markers found elevated with inflammation induced hearing loss include white blood cells, neutrophils, IL-6, and C-reactive protein.

Repetitive noise exposure is like chronic sunburn. Sunburn causes the skin to be red, inflamed, irritated, and eventually damaged with wrinkles, pigment changes or even pathology. That same type of inflammatory response can occur within the hearing system. Repetitive noise causes inflamaging of ear and hearing system. Other stressors can be thought of in same manner, and cause chronic wear and tear to the cochlea. Those of any age who are constantly plugged into personal listening devices are likely to experience hearing inflamaging. Decades of wear and tear with inadequate support appears to be the heart of age-related hearing loss.

There are other factors that affect the level of oxidative stress and inflamaging within the inner ear. These include diabetes or elevated blood sugar, obesity, heart disease. These disorders cause changes to the blood flow or capillaries to the inner ear. This then affects oxygenation of tissues, nutrient flow into, and waste products out of the very delicate inner ear and nerve tissue. 

Hearing Loss, Inflamaging and Mitochondria Stress

Another school of thought with inflamaging and hearing loss pertains to mitochondrial oxidative stress. Researchers find that cochlear degeneration occurs due to mitochondrial DNA damage, free radical production, especially Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), and decreased antioxidant function. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and smoking cause systemic inflammation that generates free radicals throughout the body. This depletes the antioxidants needed to protect mitochondria in the ear especially the cochlear tissues. This is where prevention and adequate antioxidants come to forefront of age-related hearing loss support.  It is especially critical to use nutrition before hearing loss occurs.

Antioxidants for Hearing

As with normal physiology in the body, the ear and hearing system requires a variety of antioxidants to maintain healthy function. Human and animal studies on hearing loss and antioxidants show a wide range of responses of different antioxidants.  This demonstrates the need for an assortment of antioxidants, but highlights a few key nutrients. In one study, animals fed a broad mixture of 17 different antioxidants, researchers noted three antioxidants that stood out. Lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 could nearly completely prevent age-related hearing loss, whereas N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) partially prevented the onset of age-related hearing loss. It was found that the mitochondrial protecting antioxidants, lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10, stopped a gene associated with age-related cochlear cell death.

Other studies highlight benefits with additional nutrients as they focus on different aspects of hearing physiology.  One study demonstrated that higher intakes of the fatty acid choline helped improve hearing sensitivity and mitochondrial membrane electrical activity in the ear. Older animals were fed a diet rich in antioxidants and were found to have experienced less degeneration of the nerve cells inside the inner ear. Animals treated with Vitamin C, E, and melatonin showed better auditory sensitivity and less mitochondria damage compared to the animals that did not receive the extra support. Cysteine, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin C intake showed improved auditory sensitivity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlights the benefits of beta carotene, the xanthan nutrients, and folate, as they all helped lower the risk of hearing loss. Population studies in Australia and the United States demonstrated that vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B2, magnesium, and lycopene helped protect hearing of tone, speech, amplitudes, and higher frequencies.  Iron deficiency in adolescent age animals has been linked to noise induced hearing loss. Adequate iron is essential for mitochondrial function.

Folate or folic acid recently has received a lot of attention pertaining to age-related hearing loss. Scientists have found that elevated homocysteine, caused by folate deficiency, causes high levels of oxidative stress and premature hearing loss. Indeed, we know that elevated homocysteine levels damage the cardiovascular system, brain, and eyes via methylation dysfunction. A study published just a few months ago evaluated mice that were bred to be resistant to hearing loss. After 8 months of inadequate dietary intake of folate, hearing loss was detected in this strain of animals that were not supposed to experience hearing loss. The lack of folate caused elevated homocysteine levels, which resulted in inflammatory damage to the cochlea. A simple homocysteine blood test can measure if you have elevated levels of homocysteine. Ideal lab levels are 7.2 or less.

When thinking about protecting our senses, orange and red colored fruits and vegetables come to mind for protecting eyesight, macular degeneration or other degenerative eye disorders. When it comes to hearing, common thoughts are related to noise protection. But as we have seen, in addition to hearing protection, our hearing system requires a variety of antioxidants to maintain hearing into old age. Caring for the delicate function of the cochlea, mitochondria, and vascular tissue of the ear and nervous system is essential for reducing inflamaging and age-related hearing loss. Key nutrients are folate, R-alpha lipoic acid, coenzyme Q 10, vitamins B2, B12, E, choline, magnesium, and melatonin and a diet rich in plant-based antioxidants. Numerous medications interfere with these nutrients, making it an even greater deficit added to normal stresses. Today’s high-paced life and food industry deficiencies, challenge folate and vitamin B12. Managing disorders like diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, smoking, elevated homocysteine and methylation disorders related with hearing loss is the other piece to the puzzle.

Our ears and hearing system rely on key nutrients to function and protect themselves from the many daily insults. In a world of constant sound stimulus and other auditory stresses, the need for adequate and varied nutritional support “speaks volumes” for hearing preservation. Have you protected your hearing today?

Nutritional Options

Folate – Folate is the natural, preferred form of folic acid or vitamin B9. Management of homocysteine requires folate, along with vitamin B12 and B6. Folate is critical to preventing hearing loss, methylation defects, homocysteine elevations and assists in mitochondrial activity.

R-Alpha Lipoic Acid – This antioxidant is well-known for its powerful protection to nerve tissue, like neuropathy associated with diabetes. It is a strong protector against free radical damage to the mitochondria. It helps support the master antioxidant, glutathione.

Coenzyme Q10 – Coenzyme Q10 is another antioxidant that works well with other antioxidants. It is highly recognized for its benefit with mitochondria, heart and circulatory function.

Magnesium – Over 400 processes in the body require magnesium to function. It is often deficient in cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, obesity, and chemical exposures. Consider using magnesium to help protect the vasculature and cochlea of the ear.

Choline – Ear sounds travel over cell membranes by vibration. Inadequate choline or other fatty acids like phosphatidyl serine that makes up cell membranes can impair hearing sensitivity and mitochondrial function. Eggs are a rich source of choline, but many find that additional support may be needed to make up for dietary lack.

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