The latest statistics for hearing loss in the United States is staggering. Hearing loss is estimated to affect at least 23 percent of Americans age 12 and older. Most individuals suffer mild hearing loss, but age increases hearing deficits. In fact, half of all people over the age of 65 experience age-related hearing loss. Several common reasons lead to a decline in hearing, such as loud noise, perforated eardrum, impacted earwax, and immune disorders. There is, however, a growing understanding that insufficient nutrients, mitochondria and oxidative stress, and methylation imbalances cause inflammatory stress to the inner ear that affects preservation of hearing. You may think of only seniors as having hearing loss; however these factors affect individuals of all ages.
Inflammation and Hearing Loss
The activity of hearing is rarely thought about until it starts to fade away. Putting up with missing parts of conversations, hiding it, and other coping methods come into play. Protection of your hearing system against inflammation is fundamental to keeping this basic sense intact. Cumulative research shows age-related hearing loss occurs because of chronic low-grade inflammation that stresses and damages the cochlea. The cochlea is a spiral shaped structure of the inner ear. It translates sound into nerve impulses to be sent to the brain.
Common factors that challenge hearing mechanisms include smoking, a high-fat diet, age, exposure to noise at work or entertainment, and exposure to gunfire. Chronic use of personal listening devices can also stress your hearing. These activities provoke a release of inflammatory cytokines in the cochlea. This causes aging of the structure and inflammation, known as inflammaging. Inflammation induced hearing loss has shown elevated lab markers of white blood cells, neutrophils, IL-6, and C-reactive protein.
Repetitive noise exposure is like repetitive sunburns. Sunburn causes the skin to be red, inflamed, irritated, and eventually damaged with wrinkles, pigment changes, or even pathology. Similar inflammatory stress occurs with repetitive noises causing inflammaging of the ear and hearing system. It causes chronic wear and tear to the cochlea. Decades of wear and tear with noise challenges and insufficient nutrient support appears to be the heart of age-related hearing loss.
Other factors affect the level of oxidative stress and inflammaging within the inner ear. These include elevated blood sugar, obesity, and cardiovascular concerns. These issues change blood flow to the inner ear. This affects oxygenation of tissues, nutrient flow into, and waste products out of the very delicate inner ear and nerve tissue.
Hearing Loss, Inflammaging and Mitochondria Stress
Another school of thought with inflammaging and hearing loss pertains to mitochondrial oxidative stress. Researchers found that cochlear degeneration occurred due to mitochondrial DNA damage, free radical production, i.e. Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), and decreased antioxidant protection. Elevated blood sugar, obesity, cardiac problems, autoimmune concerns, and smoking generate free radicals that lead to inflammaging. This process depletes antioxidants needed to protect mitochondria in the cochlea and ear. Prevention and adequate antioxidants come to forefront of age-related hearing loss support. It is critical to ensure nutritional support for hearing at all ages.
Antioxidants for Hearing
As with normal physiology in the body, the ear and hearing system require a variety of antioxidants to maintain healthy function. Various studies on hearing loss and antioxidants show a wide range of responses of different antioxidants. In one study, animals were fed a broad mixture of 17 different antioxidants. Three antioxidants in particular stood out. Lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 provided marked antioxidant protection for age-related hearing loss, while N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) provided good protection. These mitochondrial protecting antioxidants helped protect gene expression related with age-associated cochlear cell damage.
Other studies highlight benefits with additional nutrients as they focus on different aspects of hearing physiology. One study demonstrated that higher intakes of the fatty acid choline helped improve hearing sensitivity and mitochondrial membrane electrical activity in the ear. Another study with older animals fed a diet rich in antioxidants were found to have experienced less aging and breakdown of nerve cells inside the inner ear. Animals given