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Can a Pill Protect Against Hearing Loss? You Are What You Eat

It sounds like another web scam take a pill and protect yourself against hearing loss. Too good to be true, right? Well, if calcium strengthens bones, protein increases muscle mass and fruits and vegetables fortify the bodys immune system, why should we be surprised that good nutrition can lessen and even eliminate noise-induced hearing loss.

The University of Michigan has been conducting animal studies that clearly demonstrate that certain nutrients do, indeed, protect against hearing loss caused by loud noise over a period of time.

The University of Michigan Study

The study exposed guinea pigs to noises of up to 120 decibels (think jet taking off 10 feet over your head) once a day. One test group received a placebo (sugar pill), one received either vitamin A, C and E or the mineral, magnesium, and the third group received a combination of vitamin A, C, E and magnesium all nutrients found in the foods we eat. All natural.

The test subjects were exposed to five hours of high noise levels over a five day period. The groups that received the placebo, or the single nutrient, showed evidence of hearing loss, however, the group given the vitamin and mineral combination showed significantly less noise-induced hearing loss than all of the other groups, according to a recent U-M Health System newsletter.

Testing a hearing-protection tablet will, no doubt, begin soon, and if successful, a product could be available [to the consumer] in as little as two years, according to Josef M. Miller, Ph.D., and the senior author of the study. Miller is also the former Director of the U-M Health Systems Kresge Hearing Research Institute where the lab trials took place.

The Physiology behind the Study

Researchers believe that noise-induced hearing loss is caused by the activity of excessive free radicals. So whats a free radical?

Free radicals are highly-reactive molecules (collections of atoms) that are produced by normal chemical reactions that occur in the cells that make up the human body. We all have free radicals floating through our systems and the body employs several physiological methods to deactivate these potent by-products of cell activity.

Free radicals are chemicals that are able to oxidize (change the chemistry of) other cells in the body. These chemicals have been associated with Alzheimers, cancer and other health conditions for some time now. Free radicals cause cell damage. Thats the bottom line.

Free Radicals and Hearing

When regularly exposed to loud noise over a long period of time, we lose hearing sensitivity. U-M Kresge Hearing Loss Center investigator, Colleen G. Le Prell, Ph.D. explains. In the past 10 years, scientists have learned that noise-induced hearing loss occurs, in part, because cell mitochondria in the ear churn out damaging free radicals in response to loud sounds Cell mitochondria are elements found within the cell.

Other sources of free radicals in the hearing process are the constriction of blood flow to the ear, damage to auditory neurons and reduced excitotoxicity according to the U-M press release.

Anti-Oxidants and Free Radicals

Anti-oxidants have been in the health news for years now. They are nutrients found in many of the foods we eat, particularly in leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale. Vitamin C, a powerful anti-oxidant is also found in citrus fruits, broccoli, raw cabbage, potatoes, strawberries and blueberries. Its important to note that the body cant store vitamin C so the supply must be replenished daily.

These anti-oxidants are also found in vitamin supplements (multi-vitamin pills, for example) so if you take one of these each morning, youve just added another nutritional benefit protection against noise trauma without changing anything in your daily routine. That was easy.

Anti-oxidants are the main line of defense against free radicals and are now used in the treatment of heart disease, cancer, memory impairment, loss of vision and now, hearing loss.

So, the relationships here are: Free radicals (corrosive chemicals) are produced within the ear when humans experience noise trauma. Free radicals are created through the normal chemical processes of the human body at the cellular level. We all have them. We all experience physical damage from free radical activity. (Some scientists believe that free radicals are responsible for the aging process itself!)

To fight free radicals, researchers have identified several nutrients found in many of the foods we eat. These anti-oxidant nutrients include vitamins A, C, E and magnesium the nutrients given to one group of the animal test subjects during the U-M study. The results of the work in the lab clearly showed that test subjects that received the complete anti-oxidant cocktail showed little or no hearing loss despite 25 hours of exposure to 120 dB sound pressure.

Post Noise-Trauma Relief?

The U-M report also suggests the possibility of a morning after approach to noise trauma. An anti-oxidant regimen administered shortly after exposure to loud, sustained noise might minimize hearing damage for soldiers, musicians, pilots, construction workers and others even after exposure to excessive noise.

The Applications of a Hearing Pill

With 28 million Americans experiencing some hearing loss, a pill that prevents further damage to the inner ear would have widespread application.

Soldiers in battle are reluctant to wear ear protection because it lessens their ability to detect threats. To prepare these men and women for that days activities, taking a pill (or eating a snack bar) high in vitamins A, C, E and the mineral, magnesium, several hours before they go on duty, might deliver the protection these fighters need without compromising their ability to hear danger.

Construction workers, NASCAR drivers, club DJs and rock groups, pilots, factory workers and others exposed to routine high volume levels would all benefit from loading up on anti-oxidants before heading off to work.

One Very Important Note

The U-M study in no way indicates that nutritional supplements are a replacement for traditional ear protection. If you wear ear muffs or plugs on the job, consider the consumption of anti-oxidants an adjunct to your current protection.

Dont be surprised to see hearing pills and snack bars designed to protect you from noise trauma on your pharmacy shelves. And, because the ingredients are already proven safe, getting a special vitamin supplement to market will take much less time, so expect new products with 24 months, if not sooner.

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