It is commonly known that vitamin A is good for your vision, but most people are unaware that we also need specific nutrients in order for our hearing to function optimally. In this connection, age-related hearing loss is not necessarily linked to mechanical dysfunctions of the ear but rather to how the brain processes the sound information.
When the brain registers sound, it filters out unnecessary sound information. This ability typically gets impaired in our 40s and 50s, making it increasingly difficult to capture audible input. Some of the nutrients that are particularly important for preventing hearing loss and alleviating tinnitus and sudden deafness are folic acid, zinc, magnesium, Q10, and vitamin A. Needless to say, it is also vital to protect the ears against noise and other harmful impacts.
Lack of nutrients is a common cause
An estimated 360 million people worldwide suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss due to various factors such as noise, infections, certain types of medicine, and ageing processes. Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence to suggest that lack of nutrients is a common cause of age-related hearing loss and certain other hearing disorders. The nutrients generally have the three following functions:
1. They improve circulation in the ear and brain
In this connection, vitamin E is worth mentioning, as it makes the blood more fluid. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that works together with selenium. Omega-3 fatty acids (including those from fish oil) are also important for circulation.
2. They improve the metabolism of the amino acid homocysteine
Folate (folic acid, vitamin B9), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 regulate the metabolism of homocysteine that is a building block of protein. If homocysteine levels are elevated, the risk of atherosclerosis goes up, and this may even damage the blood supply to the ear and brain.
3. They counteract damage caused by free radicals
Free radicals are aggressive oxygen compounds that are involved in chain reactions and attack and damage cells and the cardiovascular system. We are all exposed to free radicals, and stress, smoking, infections, inflammation, and poisoning increases the free radical burden. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E plus selenium, zinc, and Q10 neutralize the free radicals.
Folate (folic acid, vitamin B9), tinnitus and age-related hearing loss
Tinnitus is characterized by a more or less permanent hissing or ringing tone in the ear(s). Supplementing with folic acid is known to have a positive effect. This is because folic acid lowers levels of homocysteine. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine are associated with age-related hearing loss.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of the nutrient and is the form that is normally used in supplements. It is best to consume natural folate from fresh vegetables and other food sources, which are often utilized better by the body. Folic acid from supplements needs to be converted into a biologically active form (L-5-MTHF) that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. It is believed that around 50% of the adult population has difficulty with this conversion because of reduced enzyme activity. For that reason, many adults (older people in particular) are better off supplementing with folate than with the synthetic form (folic acid). Children and youngsters have an easier time with converting folic acid.
Q10 and tinnitus
A study that was conducted in Berlin showed that Q10 supplements have the potential to help sufferers of tinnitus, especially men. The 20 people who took part in the study were given 300 mg of Q10 daily for 12 weeks. The treatment reduced the tinnitus attacks and improved sleep quality. According to the scientists behind the study, Q10 plays a vital role in the energy turnover in the inner ear, which is where hair cells vibrate and transmit nerve impulses to the brain.
|People with tinnitus should even pay attention to noise, stress, jaw tension, their use of painkillers (acetylic salicylic acid), and other factors.|
Zinc and magnesium with sudden deafness triggered by infection
In 80 percent of cases, the cause of sudden deafness (also known as idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss) remains unknown. The disease is typically treated with high doses of corticosteroids, but the effect is limited. Luckily, 47-63 percent of people regain normal hearing, more or less. It is believed that the disease can be triggered by viral infections, which explains why zinc often has a positive effect. Zinc has the ability to strengthen the “storm troops” of the immune defense and prevent cold virus from replicating and spreading.
In a study of patients with acute idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss, half of the participants were given corticosteroids, while the other half received corticosteroids and supplements of zinc. Those who were treated with corticosteroids plus zinc experienced a significantly better hearing improvement compared with the other group. According to the researchers, this may be because zinc is an antioxidant that counteracts oxidative stress and inflammation caused by free radical activity in the volute of the ear.
Magnesium injections (for rapid uptake in the bloodstream) have also proven to speed up recovery from idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss. If the condition is caused by an acute virus infection, supplements of vitamin C and selenium may be worth considering, as these nutrients are also important for the “storm troops” of the immune defense and for anti-inflammatory processes.
Vitamin A in the right dosage
Supplements of vitamin A have led to different results. In a large study of 65,500 women, it made no difference at all. Nonetheless, studies have demonstrated that lack of vitamin A may result in a reduction in the number of nerve cells in the nose, tongue, and ear. Vitamin A deficiencies are widespread on a global scale. In Europe, vitamin A deficiencies often occur as a result of poor diets, chronic diseases, and ageing processes. In 2014, scientists discovered that vitamin A deficiencies during pregnancy, especially during the early stage of fetal development, may predispose to damage of the inner ear and hearing loss. Still, it is important for pregnant women not to consume too much vitamin A, as this in itself may cause other types of fetal damage.
Did you know that vitamin A and zinc work together in synergy?. A deficiency of one of the nutrients weakens the other.
Martinez-Vega R et al. Folic acid deficiency induces premature hearing loss through mechanisms including cochlear oxidative stress and impairment of homocysteine metabolism. FASEB Journal 2015 Feb; 29 (2):418-32
Curhan S G et al. Carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin E and folate and risk of self-reported hearing loss in women.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015 Nov; 102(5):1167-75
Barry Keate. Folic Acid for Hearing Loss.
Gordin A et al. Magnesium: a new therapy for idopatic sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Otology and Neurology 2002 Jul; 23(4).447-51
Khan Martin et al: A pilot clinical trial of the effects of coenzyme Q10 on chronic tinnitus aurium. Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery 2007
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