Hearing Loss Associated with Insufficient Nutrients

November 28, 2016 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Hearing Loss Associated with Insufficient Nutrients
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 hearing deficits. In fact, half of all people over the age of 65 experience age-related hearing loss. Several common reasons lead to a decline in hearing, such as loud noise, perforated eardrum, impacted earwax, and immune disorders. There is, however, a growing understanding that insufficient nutrients, mitochondria and oxidative stress, and methylation imbalances cause inflammatory stress to the inner ear that affects preservation of hearing. You may think of only seniors as having hearing loss; however these factors affect individuals of all ages.

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. Protection of your hearing system against inflammation is fundamental to keeping this basic sense intact. Cumulative research shows age-related hearing loss occurs because of chronic low-grade inflammation that stresses and damages the cochlea. The cochlea is a spiral shaped structure of the inner ear. It translates sound into nerve impulses to be sent to the brain.

Common factors that challenge hearing mechanisms include smoking, a high-fat diet, age, exposure to noise at work or entertainment, and exposure to gunfire. Chronic use of personal listening devices can also stress your hearing. These activities provoke a release of inflammatory cytokines in the cochlea. This causes aging of the structure and inflammation, known as inflammaging. Inflammation induced hearing loss has shown elevated lab markers of white blood cells, neutrophils, IL-6, and C-reactive protein.

Repetitive noise exposure is like repetitive sunburns. Sunburn causes the skin to be red, inflamed, irritated, and eventually damaged with wrinkles, pigment changes, or even pathology. Similar inflammatory stress occurs with repetitive noises causing inflammaging of the ear and hearing system. It causes chronic wear and tear to the cochlea. Decades of wear and tear with noise challenges and insufficient nutrient support appears to be the heart of age-related hearing loss.

Other factors affect the level of oxidative stress and inflammaging within the inner ear. These include elevated blood sugar, obesity, and cardiovascular concerns. These issues change blood flow to the inner ear. This affects oxygenation of tissues, nutrient flow into, and waste products out of the very delicate inner ear and nerve tissue.

Hearing Loss, Inflammaging and Mitochondria Stress

Another school of thought with inflammaging and hearing loss pertains to mitochondrial oxidative stress. Researchers found that cochlear degeneration occurred due to mitochondrial DNA damage, free radical production, i.e. Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), and decreased antioxidant protection. Elevated blood sugar, obesity, cardiac problems, autoimmune concerns, and smoking generate free radicals that lead to inflammaging. This process depletes antioxidants needed to protect mitochondria in the cochlea and ear. Prevention and adequate antioxidants come to forefront of age-related hearing loss support. It is critical to ensure nutritional support for hearing at all ages.

Antioxidants for Hearing

As with normal physiology in the body, the ear and hearing system require a variety of antioxidants to maintain healthy function. Various studies on hearing loss and antioxidants show a wide range of responses of different antioxidants. In one study, animals were fed a broad mixture of 17 different antioxidants. Three antioxidants in particular stood out. Lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 provided marked antioxidant protection for age-related hearing loss, while N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) provided good protection. These mitochondrial protecting antioxidants helped protect gene expression related with age-associated cochlear cell damage.

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. Another study with older animals fed a diet rich in antioxidants were found to have experienced less aging and breakdown of nerve cells inside the inner ear. Animals given vitamins C and E and melatonin showed better auditory sensitivity and less mitochondria stress compared to the animals that did not receive the antioxidant support. Other findings showed improved auditory sensitivity with intake of cysteine, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin C

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted the benefits of beta carotene, other carotene rich nutrients, and folate for protection of auditory function. Population studies in Australia and the United States demonstrated that vitamins C, E, and 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 9 recently received attention with age-related hearing loss. Scientists found that elevated homocysteine, caused by insufficient folate intake, caused high levels of oxidative stress and premature hearing loss.

A 2016 study evaluated mice 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 stress to the cochlea. Elevated homocysteine levels adversely affect the cardiovascular system, brain, and eyes via methylation dysfunction which contribute to hearing changes. Get your homocysteine levels checked at least once per year. Ideal lab levels are 7.2 or less.

When you think about protecting your senses, orange and red colored fruits and vegetables come to mind for eyesight and aging eyes. For hearing, common thoughts relate to noise protection. In addition to hearing protection, your auditory system requires a variety of antioxidants to maintain hearing into old age. Caring for the delicate function of the cochlea, mitochondria, and vascular tissues of the ear and nervous system is essential for reducing inflammaging 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 deplete these nutrients along with a high-paced lifestyle. Processed foods affect your folate and vitamin B12 status. Management of blood sugar, obesity, heart health, smoking, homocysteine levels and methylation status related with protection of hearing 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 stressors, the need for adequate and varied nutritional support “speaks volumes” for hearing preservation. Have you protected your hearing today?

Nutrient 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 for hearing protection, methylation function, homocysteine management, and assists in mitochondrial activity.

R-Alpha Lipoic Acid – This antioxidant is well-known for its powerful protection to nerve tissue and blood sugar management. It is a strong antioxidant that protects against free radical damage to mitochondria. It also 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 critical for heart health, blood sugar, obesity, and detoxification. 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 phosphatidylserine that make 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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