Hearing loss and impairment constitute another condition that is affecting over 300 million people worldwide. In this page, i will first look at different hearing impairment challenges (Section A) and follow=up on some causes to hearing dysfunctions. (Section B) The conclusion will be devoted to holistic solutions (Section C).
Hearing Impairment and Loss: a Disease of Aging ?
While the elderly do tend to lose some or all of their hearing abilities, this condition is less due to the ear organ erosion than to how the brain processes information that results in reduced hearing. It’s the brain’s ability to provide proper feedback to the ear, by filtering out unwanted information, that declines with aging.
In addition to excessively very loud music, mineral imbalance and inappropriate nutrition, especially brain nutrition, also contributes to hearing loss. (1) Tinnitus, which is usually caused by noise-induced damage, is also aggravated by processed and junk food.
Holistic Solutions & Self-Care
Among the nutrients found to be most beneficial for protecting and improving hearing are all of the carotenoids, especially astaxanthin and vitamin A, Folate, Zinc and Magnesium (8)
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These nutrients support hearing in a number of ways, including: Protecting against oxidative stress in the cochlea
Preventing free radical damage
Improving blood flow, thereby reducing cochlear damage related to a compromised vascular system
Improving homocysteine metabolism. (2,3,4,5,6,7
The support for vitamin A is mixed. In one large study that included data from more than 65,500 women, no correlation was found between vitamin A intake and risk for hearing loss.9
However, a number of other studies have indeed found a positive correlation. As reported by Weston A. Price:10
“A 1984 European study reported a 5 to 15 decibel improvement in patients with age-related hearing loss when given vitamins A and E. Other researchers reported that vitamin A deficiency results in a decline in the number of sensory cells in the nose, tongue and inner ear.
A 1993 study reported in Science found that vitamin A can stimulate the regeneration of mammalian auditory hair cells. In 2009, Japanese researchers found that adults with the highest blood serum levels of vitamin A and carotenoids have the lowest risk for hearing loss.
And, in 2014, researchers determined that vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy, especially during the early stages of fetal development ‘may predispose offspring to inner ear malformations and sensorial hearing loss.'”
Folate May Improve Tinnitus
For noise-induced tinnitus, which is characterized by a chronic or near-chronic ringing in the ears, folate (vitamin B9), has been shown to be beneficial. Folate also lowers homocysteine, and having a high blood level of homocysteine has been linked to age-related hearing loss.11,12
As a general rule, the ideal way to raise one’s folate levels is to eat plenty of fresh, raw and organic leafy green vegetables.
Folic acid is the synthetic form typically found in supplements.
There is good reason to consider getting your folate from food rather than folic acid supplements. In order for folic acid to be of use to your body, it must first be activated into its biologically active form, which is L-5-MTHF. This is the form that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier.
It’s been estimated that early half of all adults have difficulty converting folic acid into the bioactive form because of a genetic reduction in enzyme activity. For this reason, if you take a B-vitamin supplement, make sure it contains natural folate rather than synthetic folic acid.
Furthermore, there’s been studies that i’ve seen that show folic acid to promote cancer growth, contrarily to natural folate.
Asparagus, spinach, turnip greens and broccoli are all good sources of folate, as are beans, including lentils and garbanzo beans.
Zinc for Sudden Hearing Loss
Research has shown zinc may be useful for idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL). SSNHL which is a sudden, unexplained loss of hearing.
This condition is typically treated with high-dose steroids, even though steroid treatment is controversial and evidence to support their efficacy is limited.
The good news is that 47 to 63 percent of those affected end up recovering most or all of their hearing.13 While the cause for SSNHL is unknown, one theory is that a viral infection or immunologic disease is involved. This may help explain the high rate of recovery, and why zinc appears to be so beneficial for this condition.
Zinc has anti-viral properties, and studies have shown it can prevent common cold viruses from replicating or attaching to nasal membranes. Zinc also has immune-boosting properties, allowing the body to mount a stronger first response at the onset of a viral infection.
In one study,14 66 SSNHL patients were randomly divided into two groups; half received corticosteroid treatment while the other half received oral zinc gluconate plus corticosteroid treatment. Serum zinc levels were ascertained at the outset and end of the study.
Those receiving zinc experienced significantly larger gains in hearing gain and a greater percentage of recovery. According to the authors:
“There was a significant correlation between serum zinc level changes and posttreatment hearing thresholds by correlation analysis, as well as between changes of serum zinc levels and percentage of recovery in the zinc group.
Zinc supplementation may enhance the hearing recovery of SSNHL patients. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may help reduce the oxidative stress of the cochlea in SSNHL, implying a new direction in the treatment of this disease.”
A Well-Balanced Diet Is the Best Source of Zinc
Any time you isolate one mineral and ingest it independently of others, you run the risk of creating an imbalance. This is certainly true of zinc, and taking zinc indiscriminately can be quite problematic. Excess zinc has been shown to:
Interfere with your body’s ability to absorb other minerals, especially copper, which may lead to anemia
Raise the risk of prostate cancer in men15
Induce nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc is:
11 milligrams (mg) per day for adult men
8 mg for women (If you are lactating or pregnant, you need about 3 mg more)
5 mg for 4- to 8-year-olds
8 mg for 9- to 13-year-olds
3 mg for infants
Anything over 50 mg is thought to be excessive. To be on the safe side, focus on getting your zinc from food like pumpkin seeds, tahini (ground sesame seeds), cashews, almonds, crimini mushrooms, spinach and sea vegetables. I do not recommend oysters or shell fish just about all fish contain pollutants like cadmium and especially mercury. However, small wild fish taken with chelators like cilantro or chlorella and wine has been show to be beneficial (See Mediterranean Diet studies)
Intravenous Magnesium May Also Improve Sudden Hearing Loss
Intravenous magnesium has also been shown to improve SSNHL. In one study,16 48 percent of SSNHL patients achieved recovery after receiving intravenous magnesium in combination with carbogen inhalation17 (a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen gas). Another 27 percent experienced significant improvement.
Factors that reduced the effectiveness of the treatment included vestibular symptoms (patients who had vertigo) and delaying treatment for more than eight days after onset.
Increasing NT3 Production Restored Hearing in Mice
Two years ago, researchers looking at ways to restore hearing lost due to noise came upon an interesting finding. By increasing the production of a protein called neurotrophin-3 (NT3), they were able to reverse hearing loss in mice that had been partially deafened by loud noise.
As it turns out, NT3 plays a key role in the communication occurring between ears and brain. NT3 helps establish so-called ribbon synapses that link the hair cells in your inner ear to nerve cells in your brain. When exposed to extremely loud noise, these ribbon synapses are damaged, resulting in the loss of hearing.
Accelerated aging can also damage your ribbon synapses, so NT3 may counteract normal age-related hearing loss as well. To boost production of NT3, the researchers used conditional gene recombination. As explained by Medical News Today:18
“This allows researchers to activate genes in particular cells by administering a drug that prompts the cells to ‘read’ additional copies of a gene that have been inserted into them. For this study, the team used the technique to activate additional NT3 genes that had been introduced to the supporting cells of the inner ear in mice that had been partially deafened by loud noise.
The drug tamoxifen was introduced to the supporting cells in the inner ear, which prompted them to produce extra NT3 protein … The researchers found the mice that had experienced boosted NT3 production regained their hearing over a 2-week period, compared with mice that had not had additional NT3 production …
[T]hey now plan to … identify drugs that produce the same effect as the protein, offering the potential to restore hearing loss in humans. The researchers note that the gene therapy technique used in this study has the potential to work in humans, but that a drug-based method would be ‘simpler’ and a drug could be repeatedly administered for as long as it takes for hearing to be restored.”
Astaxanthin Raises NT3 Expression
While researchers are looking for a drug solution to raise NT3, a Chinese study suggests astaxanthin could be used for this purpose.19 Astaxanthin, which is part of the carotenoid family, is believed to be one of the most potent antioxidants nature has to offer.
It’s FAR more potent than beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, lycopene and lutein, for example, and exhibits very strong free radical scavenging activity that protects your cells, organs and body tissues from oxidative damage. It’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory and is able to cross both the blood-brain barrier and the blood-retinal barrier.
Indeed, astaxanthin has been shown to have potent benefits for brain and eye health, and may be beneficial for your hearing as well, thanks to this NT3-boosting ability. The study in question looked at astaxanthin’s effect on NT3 expression in rats with compressive spinal cord injury, as NT3 has been shown to increase the growth of spinal cord neurons as well. According to the authors, astaxanthin was able to “significantly promote the expression of NT3.”
There are only two main sources of natural astaxanthin — the microalgae that produce it (Haematococcus pluvialis), and the sea creatures that consume the algae, such as salmon, shellfish and krill. If you decide to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend starting with 2 mg per day.
If you are on a krill oil supplement, take that into consideration; different krill products have different concentrations of astaxanthin, so check your label. While it’s unclear how much you’d need to improve your hearing, doses of 8 to 10 mg a day are typically recommended if you’re trying to improve your eye health.
Boosting BDNF May Also Improve Your Hearing
Earlier research has also shown that, in addition to NT3, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) also plays an important role in the development and survival of auditory neurons in your brain. One 1996 study 20 found that loss of auditory hair cells and auditory neurons can be prevented by therapies that boost either NT3 or BDNF.
Interestingly, one lifestyle factor that naturally boosts BDNF is exercise. Part of what makes exercise so effective for preventing cognitive decline is related to a boost in BDNF.
What’s the Best Way to Protect Your Hearing?
Worldwide, 360 million people have moderate to severe hearing loss due to various causes, from noise or infectious disease to the use of certain drugs and accelerated aging. It’s estimated that half of these cases of hearing loss are avoidable.21 This includes cases of hidden hearing loss or noise-induced hearing loss. Of course, protecting oneself from loud noises in the first place is prevention 101. The following recommendations can help protect your hearing and avoid hearing loss:
Turn down the volume on personal audio devices
Try a decibel meter app for your smartphone, which will flash a warning if the volume is turned up to a potentially damaging level
Wear earplugs when you visit noisy venues, and if you work in a noisy environment, be sure to wear ear protection at all times
Use carefully fitted noise-canceling earphones/headphones, which may allow you to listen comfortably at a lower volume
Limit the amount of time you spend engaged in noisy activities
Take regular listening breaks when using personal audio devices
Restrict the daily use of personal audio devices to less than one hour
If you live in a very noisy area, you may want to consider moving.
If that’s not an option, consider adding acoustical tile to your ceiling and walls to buffer the noise.
Double-paneled windows, insulation, heavy curtains and rugs can also help
Use sound-blocking headphones to eliminate occasional sound disturbances such as that from traffic or lawnmowers.
Also wear ear protection when using your lawnmower or leaf blower
Aside from that, exercise and eating a healthy, varied diet of real food can go a long way toward protecting against age-related hearing. And, even if you’ve already lost some degree of hearing, you may be able to recover some of it by optimizing your intake of carotenoids, especially astaxanthin, vitamin A, folate, zinc and magnesium.
1, 7, 11 FASEB Journal 2015 Feb;29(2):418-32
PHYSIOLOGY AND ANATOMY OF EAR
The ear is the organ of hearing and, in mammals, balance. In mammals, the ear is usually described as having three parts—the outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the pinna and the ear canal. Since the outer ear is the only visible portion of the ear in most animals, the word “ear” often refers to the external part alone.
( ) ^ “Ear”. Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
The ear may be affected by disease, including infection and traumatic damage. Diseases of the ear may lead to hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders such as vertigo, although many of these conditions may also be affected by damage to the brain or neural pathways leading from the ear.
The ear has been adorned by earrings and other jewellery in numerous cultures for thousands of years, and has been subjected to surgical and cosmetic alterations.
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a b c d Standring, Susan (2008). Borley, Neil R., ed. Gray’s Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice (40 ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier. pp. Chapter 36. “External and middle ear”, 615–631. ISBN 978-0-443-06684-9. Archived from the original on 10 March 2014.
The ear canal of the outer ear is separated from the air-filled tympanic cavity of the middle ear by the eardrum. The middle ear contains the three small bones—the ossicles—involved in the transmission of sound, and is connected to the throat at the nasopharynx, via the pharyngeal opening of the Eustachian tube. The inner ear contains the otolith organs—the utricle and saccule—and the semicircular canals belonging to the vestibular system, as well as the cochlea of the auditory system. (Ibid
The blood supply of the ear differs according to each part of the ear.
The outer ear is supplied by a number of arteries. The posterior auricular artery provides the majority of the blood supply. The anterior auricular arteries provide some supply to the outer rim of the ear and scalp behind it. The posterior auricular artery is a direct branch of the external carotid artery, and the anterior auricular arteries are branches from the superficial temporal artery. The occipital artery also plays a role.
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a b c d e Standring, Susan (2008). Borley, Neil R., ed. Gray’s Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice (40 ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier. pp. Chapter 37. “Inner ear”, 633–650. ISBN 978-0-443-06684-9.
Sound waves travel through the outer ear, are modulated by the middle ear, and are transmitted to the vestibulocochlear nerve in the inner ear. This nerve transmits information to the temporal lobe of the brain, where it is registered as sound.
Sound that travels through the outer ear impacts on the eardrum, and causes it to vibrate. The three ossicles bones transmit this sound to a second window (the oval window) which protects the fluid-filled inner ear. In detail, the pinna of the outer ear helps to focus a sound, which impacts on the eardrum. The malleus rests on the membrane, and receives the vibration. This vibration is transmitted along the incus and stapes to the oval window. Two small muscles, the tensor tympani and stapedius, also help modulate noise. The two muscles reflexively contract to dampen excessive vibrations. Vibration of the oval window causes vibration of the endolymph within the vestibule and the cochlea.
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^ Greinwald, John H. Jr MD; Hartnick, Christopher J. MD The Evaluation of Children With Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Archives of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. 128(1):84-87, January 2002
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^ “Definition of “ultrasound” | Collins English Dictionary”. www.collinsdictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-03-20.
The human ear can generally hear sounds with frequencies between 20 Hz and 20 kHz (the audio range). Sounds outside this range are considered infrasound (below 20 Hz) or ultrasound (above 20 kHz) Although hearing requires an intact and functioning auditory portion of the central nervous system as well as a working ear, human deafness (extreme insensitivity to sound) most commonly occurs because of abnormalities of the inner ear, rather than in the nerves or tracts of the central auditory system.
Providing balance, when moving or stationary, is also a central function of the ear. The ear facilitates two types of balance: static balance, which allows a person to feel the effects of gravity, and dynamic balance, which allows a person to sense acceleration.
Fluid in the middle ear cavity
Complications of otitis media that can lead to hearing loss, as seen on otoscope.
Hearing loss may be either partial or total. This may be a result of injury or damage, congenital disease, or physiological causes. When hearing loss is a result of injury or damage to the outer ear or middle ear, it is known as conductive hearing loss. When deafness is a result of injury or damage to the inner ear, vestibulochoclear nerve, or brain, it is known as sensorineural hearing loss.
Causes of conductive hearing loss include an ear canal blocked by ear wax, ossicles that are fixed together or absent, or holes in the eardrum.
Conductive hearing loss may also result from middle ear inflammation causing fluid build-up in the normally air-filled space, such as by otitis media.
Tympanoplasty is the general name of the operation to repair the middle ear’s eardrum and ossicles. Grafts from muscle fascia are ordinarily used to rebuild an intact eardrum. Sometimes artificial ear bones are placed to substitute for damaged ones, or a disrupted ossicular chain is rebuilt in order to conduct sound effectively.
Hearing aids or cochlear implants may be used if the hearing loss is severe or prolonged. Hearing aids work by amplifying the sound of the local environment and are best suited to conductive hearing loss. Cochlear implants transmit the sound that is heard as if it were a nervous signal, bypassing the cochlea.
Vertigo refers to the inappropriate perception of motion. This is due to dysfunction of the vestibular system. One common type of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, when an otolith is displaced from the ventricles to the semicircular canal. The displaced otolith rests on the cupola, causing a sensation of movement when there is none. Ménière’s disease, labyrinthitis, strokes, and other infective and congenital diseases may also result in the perception of vertigo.
Tinnitus is the hearing of sound when no external sound is present. While often described as a ringing, it may also sound like a clicking, hiss or roaring. Rarely, unclear voices or music are heard. The sound may be soft or loud, low pitched or high pitched and appear to be coming from one ear or both. Most of the time, it comes on gradually. In some people, the sound causes depression, anxiety, or concentration difficulties.
Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom that can result from a number of underlying causes. One of the most common causes is noise-induced hearing loss. Other causes include: ear infections, disease of the heart or blood vessels, Ménière’s disease, brain tumors, emotional stress, exposure to certain medications, a previous head injury, and earwax. It is more common in those with depression.