Nutrition for Hearing Loss
There has long been a known association between good nutrition and good hearing. The basic vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, in addition to iron, copper, magnesium, iodine, and folate have all been identified as particularly beneficial for good ear development and hearing health. Moreover, recent studies indicate that certain forms of hearing loss (especially noise-induced losses) can be reversed or improved through specific nutrient therapy. As research continues, new nutrients are being added to the list.
How Does Nutrition Work to Improve Hearing?
Each of the identified nutrients acts in a different way, and is therefore recommended for different reasons (see below). Some work to heal ear tissue, and some improve blood flow and oxygen to the inner ear. Still others fight free radicals, thought to be a specific factor in noise-induced hearing loss. Importantly, many symptoms of hearing loss are the direct result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and improvement may be as simple as supplementing one’s diet with the necessary nutrients.
Which Nutrients are Indicated for Specific Hearing Problems?
A variety of nutrients have been found to have specific effects on hearing. Supplementation with the following vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants can promote auditory health and possibly resolve improve conditions of hearing loss.
Vitamin A deficiencies increase noise susceptibility and decrease sensory function. Noise-induced hearing loss seems to be particularly helped by Vitamin A supplementation in the diet. While it is known that this vitamin is essential in the initial development of the inner ear, the specific role it plays in improving hearing loss is not as exacting.
Vitamin B Complex: A plethora of B vitamins are involved not only in healthy ear functioning, but also in improving hearing loss. A good B-complex supplement helps to reduce ear pressure and has been used therapeutically to treat acute deafness and hearing loss. In other research studies, tinnitus (ringing, humming in the ears) has also shown improvement after B-complex supplementation.
Biotin deficiency has also been implicated in hearing loss (it affects development of the auditory nerves), as has folacin. A Vitamin B-1 (Thiamine) deficiency can result in delayed auditory brainstem response. Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin) is believed to enhance hearing cells in the ears to use oxygen, and is therapeutic for sudden hearing loss, acute noise-induced hearing loss, and Meniere’s disease. Vitamin B-3 (Niacin) and its derivatives are involved in increasing circulation to critical nerve cells throughout the body, including hearing cell nerves. It is also therapeutic for Meniere’s syndrome, where there is associated vertigo (dizziness) and hearing loss. Vitamin B-5 is believed to “coat” nerve endings in the ears, creating less irritating noises for those suffering from tinnitus symptoms. Vitamin B-6 is believed to help regulate the fluid in the ears and a B6 deficiency can affect peripheral and brainstem auditory pathways.
B-12 deficiencies, along with deficiencies in folate/folacin, are implicated in hearing losses among the elderly. Deficiencies of these nutrients negatively affect both the nervous and vascular systems associated with hearing, and are further associated with both tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. B-12 deficiencies may also inhibit the protective coating (myelination) of the neurons in the cochlear nerve.
Vitamin C is effective in protecting or at least reducing the damage to cochlear hair cells and acute hearing losses associated with noise exposure.
Vitamin D deficiencies are associated with abnormal bone growth in the middle ear, cochlear deafness, and hearing loss associated with the sensory nerve system, and vitamin supplementation is recommended for these conditions.
Vitamin E supplementation, added to the diets of those with sudden hearing losses, has notably improved their recovery rates. Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant and is especially beneficial for hearing losses associated with damage from free radicals.
Several minerals also play a role in improving the function of hearing and/or improving hearing loss. One of the important signs of hearing loss associated with growing older is the loss of cochlear hair cells (necessary for moving sound vibrations along). Diets lacking in copper and zinc accelerate those losses. Deficiencies in iodine are also known to contribute to cochlear lesions and middle-ear changes, resulting in hearing deficits. One Chinese study noted hearing improvements in otherwise normal school children in iodine-deficient areas following the use of iodized salt. Cochlear deafness and damage to inner ear cells is also associated with iron deficiency. Finally, magnesium is effective in controlling damage from noise-induced hearing loss, and is believed to have some protective benefits for the inner ear hair cells and arterial lining.
Amino Acids and Antioxidants
Some amino acids have proven significant in healing ear damage and improving hearing losses, especially those that are noise-induced. Studies have shown that little or no damage follows exposure to high noise levels normally causing damage, when n-acetyl-cysteine is taken. Prophylactic protection against cochlear damage and sensorineural hearing loss is also associated with satisfactory or better levels of arginine and methionine. Alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in generating and regenerating mitochondria in the hair cells of the inner ear. Another powerful antioxidant is Co-enzyme Q10, which has shown promising results when tested for preventing progressive hearing loss in diabetics without affecting other diabetic complications or symptoms.
Prophylactic Protection from Hearing Loss with Nutrition
In 2007, University of Michigan researchers reported supporting the emerging evidence that nutrients can effectively block inner ear damage caused by free radical activity following noise-induced trauma. A high combined dose of Vitamins A, C, E, and magnesium, taken one hour before noise exposure and then continued for five days following exposure, was reportedly highly effective in preventing permanent noise-induced hearing loss. If these findings are sustained in clinical trials over the next few years, a hearing-protection tablet or snack bar may be available in the very near future.
Finding a Nutritionist
Professionally-trained nutritionists can assist in developing therapeutic diets specifically designed for individuals with hearing needs. They also are keenly aware of the action and interaction of therapeutic nutrients taken together with other nutrients, and are best trained to prevent toxicity from excess nutrients such as iron or beta-carotene. Local hospital or medical centers are good resources for finding local nutritionists, as are county or state public and private health centers.
The U.S. Government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers a wealth of information on nutritional therapies at its website.
DeNoon, Daniel. “Folic Acid May Slow Hearing Loss.”WebMD Health News, using as sources: Durga, J. Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 2, 2007; vol 146: pp 1-9. Dobie, R.A. Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 2, 2007; vol 146: pp 63-64.
Gavin, Kara. “Nutrients Might Prevent Hearing Loss, New Animal Study Suggests.”
University of Michigan Health System Press Release, 4 April 2007.
“Hearing and Nutrition” available from Innvista.
“Hearing Loss and Nutrition.” Timely Topics, published by Kansas State University Dept. of Human Nutrition.