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Can a Dietary Supplement Stave Off Hearing Loss?

Many people take a vitamin each morning to maintain good nutrition, energy, bone strength, and overall health. Can popping a pill also protect our hearing against damage caused by loud noise?

Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Florida, together with the biosciences company OtoMedicine, have demonstrated that temporary noise-induced hearing loss-the hearing loss you might feel immediately after attending a loud concert but that goes away in a day or two-can be prevented in guinea pigs by a combination of the antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E and the mineral magnesium, when administered before exposure to a loud sound. Because repeated bouts of temporary noise-induced hearing loss may lead to permanent noise-induced hearing loss, the scientists hope to determine whether prevention of the former can stave off the latter in various animal models and in humans.

In a second study conducted with colleagues at Washington University, the researchers demonstrated that permanent noise-induced hearing loss can also be prevented in mice through the combination of the same nutrients administered before exposure to a loud noise. (They showed similar results in guinea pigs in an earlier study.) However, unlike in guinea pigs, they found that the nutrients protect a structure in the mouse's inner ear that is implicated in age-related hearing loss. They plan to test whether the nutrient supplements may be able to prevent this type of hearing loss as well. The researchers are currently conducting clinical trials of the supplements' ability to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in college students, military personnel, and factory workers in Florida, Sweden, and Spain.

Scientists supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the National Institutes of Health, presented their research findings at the 2009 Midwinter Meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) in Baltimore.

Adapted from materials provided by the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders.

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