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According the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have hearing loss most likely caused by exposure to loud sounds or noise at work, home, or during recreational activities. For example, target shooting and hunting, attending rock concerts, snowmobile riding, woodworking, and operating lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and shop tools are all linked to noise-induced hearing loss.
Vitamins Protect Against Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
But research just presented at the Association for Research in Otolaryngology's annual conference in Baltimore by University of Florida scientist Colleen Le Prell, Ph.D., suggests there's a way to protect against noise-induced and perhaps even age-related hearing loss in humans -- take vitamin supplements containing the antioxidants beta carotene, vitamins C and E and the mineral magnesium. When test animals were given the vitamins before they were exposed to loud noises, the supplements prevented both temporary and permanent hearing loss.
"What is appealing about this vitamin 'cocktail' is that previous studies in humans, including those demonstrating successful use of these supplements in protecting eye health, have shown that supplements of these particular vitamins are safe for long-term use," Dr. Le Prell, an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions department of communicative disorders, stated in a media release.
In the first study, UF, University of Michigan and OtoMedicine scientists gave guinea pigs the vitamin supplements before a four-hour exposure to sounds at 110 decibels, a noise level about the same as what people experience at rock concerts. The animals' hearing was measured by sound-evoked neural activity. The results? The vitamins successfully prevented temporary hearing loss.
In another related study, UF, Washington University in St. Louis and OtoMedicine researchers found that the supplements prevented permanent noise-induced hearing loss in mice that would normally occur after a single extremely loud sound exposure. The supplements prevented cell loss in the animals' lateral wall, an inner ear structure linked to age-related hearing loss. That has scientists speculating these micronutrients may offer protection against age-related changes in human hearing.
"I am very encouraged by these results that we may be able to find a way to diminish permanent threshold shift with noise exposure," said Debara Tucci, M.D., an associate professor of surgery in the otolaryngology division at Duke University Medical Center, in the media statement.
So how could nutritional supplements protect hearing? The answer appears to lie in their ability to "mop up" free radicals. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with unpaired electrons that can cause damage when they react with important cellular components. Researchers have discovered noise-induced hearing loss is primarily caused by the production of free radicals, which damage healthy cells in the ear by literally punching holes in the membranes of the cells. According to the researchers statement to the media, the antioxidants beta carotene, vitamins C and E prevent hearing damage by "scavenging" the free radicals. Magnesium helps by preserving blood flow to the inner ear and aiding in healing.
Dr. Le Prell and her colleagues are currently collaborating on National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trials of the vitamin supplements in University of Florida college students who wear MP3 music players, as well as in military troops exposed to loud noises and factory workers in Sweden and Spain who work in noisy environments.
"Ear protection, such as ear plugs, is always the best practice for the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss, but in those populations who don't or can't wear hearing protection, for people in which mechanical devices just aren't enough, and for people who may experience unexpected noise insult, these supplements could provide an opportunity for additional protection," Dr. Le Prell stated in the media release.
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