Vitamins Prevent Hearing Loss?
Mom was right. Vitamins are good for you. They help stave off disease by strengthening the body’s immune system so, indeed, you’re less likely to come down with the sniffles if you eat well and perhaps take a vitamin supplement as insurance against everything from colds and flu to hearing loss.
Hearing loss? That’s the news out of the University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute where studies in the lab have shown that certain vitamins can actually protect the complex and delicate inner ear mechanism from damage caused by exposure to loud noise.
The Military Seeks Solutions to Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Dr. Joseph Miller, co-lead researcher of the study undertaken at the University of Michigan stated, “If we can even see 50 percent of the effectiveness in humans that we saw in our animal trials, we will have an effective treatment that will very significantly reduce noise-induced hearing impairment in humans. That would be a remarkable dream.”
Certainly, in terms of improving life quality for those who experience hearing loss, Dr. Miller is obviously correct. However, the U.S. military is also closely following this important research. Here’s why:
- In 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent $1.5 billion (with a b) just in compensation for hearing impairment among our veterans and active troops.
- The Department of Defense (DoD) reports another $1.5 billion is spent on clinical care for cases of noise-induced hearing loss.
- More than one-third of our troops returning from war zones can not be re-deployed because these men and women have experienced hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise. This is an expensive loss of experience and a drain on military troop deployments.
- A new, vitamin-rich drug, AuraQuell, is being tested in military and industrial trials overseas in Sweden and Spain and, to date, field test results synch up with lab results – an exciting and promising finding.
There are numerous causes of hearing loss: illness and disease, the natural aging process (presbycusis), exposure to a loud burst of noise (hearing trauma) and long-term exposure to loud noise top the list of causes.
In this case, the U-M research focuses on hearing loss caused by trauma (often seen in our military) and long-term exposure to noise as seen in loud workplace environments, and in your child’s bedroom. You know, the one with the ear buds always in place at a listening level that would make a grown man cry. You bet, these tiny, electronic gizmos have produced a generation that’s experiencing hearing loss at a much earlier age. Don’t rock on. Please.
Free Radicals and Hearing Loss
Free radicals are highly corrosive molecules that exist naturally within the human body. They’re always present. However, free radicals and their corrosive effects are produced in areas of internal damage to the hearing mechanism – specifically, the cochlea, that spiral shaped element of the human hearing machine. Exposure to loud noise creates free radicals that destroy the tiny hearing hair cells contained within the cochlea and the result? Loss of hearing.
Amazingly, however, the ear is able to heal the damage if given time between exposures to loud noise. Ask yourself how much time you give your ears or your kids’ ears to recover after a few hours plugged into an MP3 player. Today, we’re all plugged in and it’s loud.
And it’s this on-going exposure to loud noise – on the battlefield or high school football field – that creates free radicals that actually corrode the delicate inner workings of the inner ear.
Vitamins vs. Free Radicals
The medical community has long known about the dangers of free radicals. Current science indicates that these acidic molecules are responsible for the aging process itself and that, if these free radicals can be countered, we’ll live longer, healthier lives. Okay, sounds good.
Subsequently, we’re encouraged to eat leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale – foods that are high in anti-oxidants – the agents that combat free radicals and minimize their negative effects. But you’ve got to eat a whole lot of kale to produce enough antioxidants to prevent ear damage and, frankly, most of us just don’t like kale.
So, lab research is undertaken at the University of Michigan using high doses of the vitamins A, C and E and the mineral (another nutrient) magnesium on guinea pigs in the lab, and the results were promising enough to undertake field testing on humans living and working in noisy environments that, under routine circumstances, damage hearing through the production of those corrosive free radicals.
In a nutshell (nuts are also high in antioxidants, as an aside), individuals who take regular doses of vitamins A, C and E, along with magnesium, before anticipated exposure to loud noise can actually prevent hearing loss. It’s important to note that the pill, AuraQuell, must be taken before noise exposure. In the case of military and others who daily work in loud environments, an AuraQuell a day may keep deafness away.
Bottom line: here’s how the researchers work was described in a U-M release: “The U-M researchers discovered that this new combination of vitamins, when mixed with magnesium, can prevent noise-induced damage to the ears by blocking some of these complex cellular reactions.”
More Good News
In another study, this one spearheaded by the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, researchers Dr. Robert Floyd and retired Army surgeon, Dr. Richard Kopke, M.D., discovered a combination of two compounds stopped damage to the inner ear caused by acute acoustic trauma – something like an IED exploding. “This is a very exciting finding,” said Dr. Floyd, who holds the Merrick Foundation Chair in Aging Research at OMRF. “The research is still at a pre-clinical stage, but we’re hopeful that we soon can begin testing in humans.
If this therapy ultimately proves effective,” Dr. Floyd continued, “it could also have many civilian applications, including combating age-related hearing loss.”
That’s good news for the one in three Americans over the age of 70 who live with some degree of hearing loss. Further, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that approximately 30 million Americans who are exposed to hazardous noise levels on the job could benefit from this important research.
So, with Aura Quell in field tests to defend against noise-induced hearing loss, and a pill designed to prevent hearing loss caused by acute hearing trauma in clinical trials, it looks like we’re nearing the day when hearing loss can be addressed medically as well as through improved technology.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can push the envelope of hearing health by blasting your MP3 player in the belief that a pill will come to your rescue down the road.
Currently, the best protection you have against hearing loss now and in the years to come is to take preventative steps by avoiding loud noise over long periods of time.
Give your ears a rest and protect your hearing with earmuffs, earplugs and other protective devices. You’ve only got one pair of ears and once those tiny hair cells within the inner ear are damaged – they are damaged.
Wise to protect what you got, yes?