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Certain supplements have been shown to slow—and possibly even prevent—hearing loss
Your ears, especially the middle and inner ear sections, enable you to sense sounds. They also help provide balance and enable you to feel gravity and acceleration. When we’re young, we’re able to hear relatively high-pitched sounds, but this sensitivity decreases with age.
Ear infections are relatively common in infants and children, in part because their eustachian tubes are not fully developed. Excess earwax, called cerumen, can interfere with hearing. The risk of partial hearing loss increases with age, especially years after chronic exposure to loud noises, and an estimated 35 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Tinnitus, often described as a ringing in the ears, can affect people of any age. Vertigo, or a loss of balance, tends to affect older people. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a type of vertigo caused by flakes of calcium crystals in the inner ear.
In general, hearing loss does not need to be treated until it interferes with a person’s daily activities, such as difficulty hearing conversations. Often, friends and family members will alert you to hearing problems, when they have to raise their voice or they complain that your TV volume is too high.
Free basic hearing tests are available online. An audiologist or a physician specializing in ear disorders can conduct a more accurate test. However, some seniors resist getting their hearing checked because of vanity.
Hearing aids are aggressively marketed to seniors. Inexpensive hearing aids might cost several hundred dollars, but high-quality units can range from $2,000 to $7,000. The watchwords are caveat emptor—let the buyer beware. Unless your hearing loss affects your day-to-day life, resist the pressure to buy. Most insurers do not cover the cost of hearing aids.
Several supplements can often help people reduce the risk of hearing loss. Some of these supplements, such as the B vitamins and alpha-lipoic acid, are involved in cellular energy production.
Antioxidants. Sudden, inexplicable hearing loss may be related to free radical damage. A 2015 study in the European Archives of Otorhinolaryngology described the treatment of 70 people with sudden hearing loss with an “ACES”-type supplement containing natural beta-carotene (provitamin A), vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium twice daily for 30 days. The subjects had better improvements in hearing compared with those not receiving the supplement. Try: Shop for a multiantioxidant ACES-type supplement.
B vitamins. High blood levels of homocysteine—indicative of low folate and vitamin B6 and B12 levels—are associated with hearing loss. Researchers compared 28 men with noise-induced hearing loss and 32 men without the disorder. The men with elevated homocysteine levels were more likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 and folate. A recent medical review article noted that B-complex vitamins can help some people suffering from tinnitus. Try: Either a multivitamin, B-complex, or homocysteine-lowering supplement. Follow label directions for use.
Ginkgo biloba. This venerable herb has been found helpful in tinnitus and sudden hearing loss, possibly because it increases blood flow. A 2015 medical journal article found that ginkgo supplements could help people with mild to moderate tinnitus. An earlier 12-week study found that ginkgo reduced tinnitus in 52 patients. They also benefited with improvements in hearing compared with people taking placebos. German researchers reported that ginkgo supplements led to improvements in both sudden, unexplained hearing loss and tinnitus. Try: 200 mg of a standardized ginkgo supplement.
Omega-3s. Researchers at Harvard University tracked 65,215 nurses for approximately 18 years. During this time they identified 11,606 cases of hearing loss. Women who consumed at least two serving of fatty fish (e.g., salmon) each week were 20 percent less likely to experience hearing loss, compared with those who consumed little or no fish. The omega-3s might protect the ears through their anti-inflammatory effects, or they could have been a marker of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Try: Eat more salmon or take at least 1,000 mg of omega-3s daily.
Zinc. Supplements of this essential mineral might also help reduce symptoms of tinnitus, at least in people are who deficient in zinc. Researchers gave 41 patients with tinnitus either 50 mg of zinc or placebos daily for two months. Clinical tests indicated that 46 percent of those taking zinc improved, although 82 percent of patients perceived that they had improved.Try: 25 to 50 mg of zinc daily.
Hearing Loss and the Cancer Patient
Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy occasionally experience an improvement in hearing acuity, but many more suffer a decrease in hearing. Drugs such as cisplatin, carboplatin, gentamicin, and tobramycin are most likely to cause hearing loss. In a preclinical study conducted at the University of Florida, the combination of vitamins C and E and magnesium provided some protection against gentamicin-induced hearing loss. In a separate study conducted in Korea, researchers found that alpha-lipoic acid also protected against hearing damage from cisplatin.
Low folate and vitamin B6 and B12 levels are associated with hearing loss.