You must have heard that some nutrients can improve and support your good vision, but did you know that your hearing can also benefit from some ingredients? Your diet (and supplementation) might hold the answer to your recent problems with hearing.
As a matter of fact, scientists believe nutritional imbalances are the primary cause of hearing loss. Troubles with hearing related to aging are not caused by some mechanical dysfunction in ears. Instead, it’s the way the brain processes information, eventually leading to hearing loss.
What’s more, the ability of the brain to filter out unnecessary information in order to give the right feedback to your ears starts decreasing in your 40s and 50s.
Luckily, the age-related hearing loss that we experience as we grow can be reversible. Sudden loss of hearing, as well as tinnitus (ringing in the ears), can also be significantly improved.
Nutrients Which Protect and Improve Hearing
The most beneficial nutrients for your hearing are:
- Carotenoids, especially vitamin A and astaxanthin
They protect and maintain your optimal hearing by:
- Preventing free radical damage
- Preventing oxidative stress in the cochlea
- Improving homocysteine metabolism
- Increasing blood flow, thus lowering cochlear damage linked to a compromised vascular system
Researchers are divided over the importance of vitamin A for hearing. A group of researchersdidn’t manage to find any correlation between the risk of hearing loss and this vitamin after analyzing data from over 65,000 women. On the other hand, many other studies did find a positive correlation.
Weston A. Price explained the results of several studies.
One of them conducted in 1984 proved that vitamin A and E improved the hearing or patients with an age-related hearing loss by 5-15 decibels. Other researchers stated lack of vitamin A leads to reduced number of sensory cells in the tongue, nose, and inner ear.
Another one published in Science in 1993 claims vitamin A can help regenerate mammalian auditory hair cells. A Japanese study conducted in 2009 discovered that the risk for hearing loss in adults with high blood serum levels of this vitamin and carotenoids is lowest.
Finally, in 2014 a group of researchers concluded that lack of vitamin A during pregnancy, particularly during the first stages, can increase the risk of sensorial hearing loss and inner ear malformations in the baby.
Folate (Vitamin B9) Can Improve Tinnitus
Tinnitus caused by noise-induced damage is characterized by ringing in the ears. Researchers showed that vitamin B9, or folate, can improve this condition, as well as reduce your homocysteine. This is important since elevated levels of homocysteine in blood are related to age-related hearing loss.
The best way to raise your vitamin B9 levels (folate) is to consume a lot of organic, raw green leafy veggies.
Supplements have the synthetic form of folate called folic acid. But, it’s better if you get your vitamin B9 from food than supplements. The folic acid from supplements has to convert into L-5-MTHF – its biologically active form, in order to pass your blood-brain barrier and be used by your body.
However, experts say around half of all adults have problems converting it into its bioactive form due to a genetic decrease in enzyme activity. That’s why if you decide to take a B-vitamin supplement, choose one with natural folate instead of synthetic folic acid. Apparently, kids can convert folic acid into L-5-MTHF more quickly.
Good natural sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, broccoli, turnip greens, garbanzo beans, lentils, and other beans.
Zinc for Sudden Unexplained Loss of Hearing
According to research, zinc can help idiopathic SSNHL – sudden sensorineural hearing loss. The treatment of this condition usually includes high-dose steroids, but there’s not enough evidence that they are effective or safe.
Luckily, 47-63% of SSNHL patients can recover most of their hearing. Even though the real cause of this hearing condition is unknown, some researchers think that it’s a viral infection or some kind of an immunologic disease. This might explain the high rate of SSNHL recovery, as well as the reason why zinc can help its treatment.
The anti-viral properties of zinc can protect against common cold viruses. Also, this mineral boosts the immune system making your body more ready to fight and prevent viral infections.
One study involved 66 patients with a sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Researchers divided them into two groups, both of them receiving corticosteroid treatment, but the second one taking oral zinc gluconate as well.
Researchers ascertained zinc levels at the beginning and the end of the study. They noted considerable improvement in the hearing of the participants receiving zinc.
As they explain, zinc supplementation can help the SSNHL recovery. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects can help decrease the oxidative stress of the cochlea in these patients, suggesting a new direction in the SSNHL treatment.
The Best Source of Zinc – A Well-Balanced Diet
Even though increasing zinc intake can improve your hearing condition, you should know that excess amounts of this mineral might cause certain health problems. Therefore, be careful when taking it indiscriminately. Some of the health concerns caused by excess zinc in your body include:
- Problems with the absorption of copper and other minerals (which might cause anemia)
- Increased risk of prostate cancer in men
- Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
Here’s the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for zinc supplements:
- 8 mg for women (11 mg for pregnant and breastfeeding women)
- 11 mg for adult men
- 5 mg for children between the age of 4 and 8
- 8 mg for children between the age of 9 and 13
- 3 mg for infants
Nevertheless, the safest way to increase your zinc levels is through your diet. Good food sources of zinc are seafood, grass-fed beef, cashews, tahini, pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, cheddar cheese, sea vegetables, and crimini mushrooms.
The best source of zinc is oysters – 100-gram serving contains 16-182 mg of zinc, and liver – 100 grams of serving has 12 mg of zinc. However, keep in mind that anything more than 50 mg of zinc is considered to be excessive.
Reportedly, zinc from animal sources is better absorbed than that from plant sources.
Intravenous Magnesium Also Helps the SSNHL Treatment
Researchers say that intravenous magnesium can also improve the treatment of sudden hearing loss. One study conducted on SSNHL patients showed that nearly half of them achieved recovery after taking a combination of intravenous magnesium and carbogen inhalation. Another 27% of the rest of the participants also made great improvement.
According to researchers, vertigo and postponed treatment (8 days after the onset) are factors that reduced the success of this SSNHL treatment.
Mice Study – Increased NT3 Production Restores Hearing
NT3 is the protein neurotrophin-3. Two years ago, a group of scientists discovered that increased production of NT3 reverses hearing loss in mice due to loud noise.
It seems that this protein is essential in the communication happening between the ears and brain. Neurotrophin-3 helps establish the ribbon synapses which connect the hair cells in the cochlea to nerve cells in the brain.
Loud noise can damage these synapses, resulting in hearing loss. But, they can also be damaged due to aging, so this protein can also prevent age-related hearing loss.
Medical News Today explains how a group of researchers increased the NT3 production with the help of conditional gene recombination.
They tested the drug tamoxifen in mice which lost their hearing partially because of loud noise. Researchers introduced it to the supporting cells in their cochlea, and the result was increased production of NT3. These mice reversed their hearing loss within two weeks, as opposed to the other group of mice which didn’t receive the drug.
The plan of these researchers is to find the drugs which can give the same effect as NT3, thus restoring the hearing loss in people. They believe the same gene therapy technique used in the mice study can possibly work in people. However, the method they would use would probably be simpler, and they will administer the drug as long as necessary until they reverse the hearing loss.
Astaxanthin Increases NT3 Expression
In the meantime, Chinese researchers have found that astaxanthin can increase NT3. This antioxidant is far more potent than alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. It is practically the strongest antioxidant which protects your tissues, cells, and organs from oxidative damage.
What’s more, it provides potent anti-inflammatory properties and can pass both, the blood-retinal and the blood-brain barrier.
Besides being beneficial to your brain and vision, this antioxidant is also great for your hearing, due to its ability to boost NT3. One study showed that astaxanthin can greatly enhance the expression of NT3 in rats with spinal cord injury.
The only natural sources of astaxanthin are microalgae and the sea creatures that eat it. These include shellfish, salmon, and krill. The recommended daily amount of astaxanthin to start with is 2 mg.
It’s important to check the label of krill oil supplement as different products contain different astaxanthin concentration. So far, scientists have only discovered the recommended daily dose of astaxanthin for improving the vision (8-10 mg), but there’s still nothing when it comes to improving the hearing.
Increasing BDNF Can Also Improve Your Hearing
Another research shows that besides NT3, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) can also support the development and survival of auditory brain neurons. In 1996, scientists proved that therapies which boost BDNF or NT3 can prevent the loss of these neurons and auditory hair cells.
Strangely enough, exercise can naturally boost BDNF, which is, in fact, the reason it prevents cognitive decline. However, it’s still not proved that it can help prevent loss of hearing through this mechanism.
Tips to Protect Your Hearing
There are various causes of moderate to severe hearing loss, including infectious disease, loud noise, aging, and certain medication. Overall, there are around 360 million people in the world with hearing loss. Experts say half of them could have been prevented (cases of noise-induced or hidden hearing loss).
First, you need to protect yourself from loud noises. Other ways to protect your hearing include:
- Don’t listen to music through personal audio devices with the volume all the way up
- Install a decibel meter app on your smartphone to know when the volume reaches a potentially damaging level
- Wear ear protection if you work in a noisy environment, and earplugs if going at a noisy
- Choose noise-cancelling headphones that fit your ear perfectly. In this way, you can listen well at a lower volume.
- Don’t spend too much time in noisy activities
- When listening on a personal audio device, make sure you make breaks
- Limit the time you spend on a personal audio device to one hour a day
- In case you experience serious hearing problems and live in a noisy neighborhood, consider moving. Another option is to add acoustical tile to your walls and ceiling to insulate against the noise. Heavy curtains, double-paneled windows, and rugs can also help.
- To eliminate occasional noises from lawnmowers or traffic use sound-blocking headphones
- Finally, don’t forget to wear ear protection when using leaf blower or lawnmower
Besides these helpful tips, a good way to protect your hearing and prevent age-related hearing loss is following a diet that consists of real food. In any case, if you already have hearing loss to some degree, you can recover it by increasing the intake of carotenoids, mainly astaxanthin, folate, vitamin A, magnesium, and zinc.