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Preserve Your Hearing with Supplements and Ear Plugs

man with a hand cupping his ear
June 23, 2014 (Updated: August 4, 2021)
Lily Moran

Misunderstanding directions, constantly asking people to repeat themselves, avoiding noisy restaurants and social events — these are just a few of the issues created by hearing difficulties.

I am not a hearing specialist or otolaryngologist, but I have counseled enough patients with difficulty hearing to know that this is an invisible health problem that has a tremendous impact on people’s lives.

Fortunately, you can take steps to prevent hearing loss and related problems. (And if you already suffer from hearing loss, hearing aids are smaller and more effective than ever. Unfortunately, the price is high, too, and not always covered by insurance.)

Hearing Loss: A Problem for Young and Old Alike

Hearing loss affects roughly one-third of all individuals over the age of 65. And the kids today are already at increased risk for losing their hearing, thanks to their overuse of cell phones, music players, and video games. Your children and grandchildren regularly pump sound directly in their ear canals with no protection of any kind. Hearing loss in youngsters between the ages of 5 and 19 is on the rise, with nearly 20 percent now experiencing difficulties hearing.

Age, Noise, and Drugs: Your Ears’ Worst Enemies

Hearing loss is associated with advancing years because the majority of hearing loss is aging of the ears. Tiny hair cells in the ear, one of the most essential elements in the complicated process of hearing, help the brain identify specific sounds. These delicate cells can be damaged by free radicals. Free radicals are also involved in the process that creates wrinkles and other signs of aging.

What else causes hearing loss?

The second most common cause of hearing problems is noise. Musicians and construction workers, people who work constantly in noisy environments, are at very high risk.Experts at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders conservatively estimate that 10 million Americans have suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise, while another 30 million are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day.

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Finally, many people get hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) from over-the-counter and prescription medication. Aspirin is just one of hundreds of medicines that are ototoxic, or damaging to hearing. Unfortunately, physicians rarely mention the possibility of hearing loss when prescribing ototoxic drugs, like certain anti-depressants. Because it can take months for a hearing problem to become noticeable, few people realize the drug and the hearing loss are related.

Save Your Tiny Hair Cells!

The tiny hair cells in your ears are vulnerable to damage from many sources, including:

  • Free radicals
  • Infections
  • Certain drugs
  • Some diseases
  • Noise
  • Genetics
  • Circulatory problems
  • Too few antioxidants

What can you do to protect yourself?

Antioxidants: Hearing Help in a Pill

Combating both age-related and noise-induced hearing loss requires the same
approach — antioxidants. Studies repeatedly show that these nutrients protect us against the cell-damaging rogue molecules known as free radicals.

According to the latest research, I recommend the following five supplements:

  • Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA): ALA has the amazing ability to recycle vitamins C and E, giving a triple anti-oxidant dose, when combined with its own effects. But when combined with acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC; see below), ALA really shines as an antiaging nutrient with a special affinity for ears. I recommend 100 to 750 mg of ALA daily, with 500 to 3,000 mg of ALC for maximum benefit.
  • Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC): Although our bodies produce ALC, production slows as we age. Supplementing with ALC benefits the ears, especially when combined with ALA (above). The synergy between these two nutrients amplifies the protection they afford the ear’s delicate hair cells. Start with 500 mg of ALC daily. If you need more, you can safely take up to 3,000 mg per day. You may want to take these nutrients in the morning and early afternoon because they can be quite energizing and may keep you awake at night.
  • Magnesium: Studies repeatedly show that magnesium effectively counteracts noise-induced hearing loss. In addition, it has great benefits for both heart and bone health. I recommend 200 mg twice daily. At least one study reported relief from tinnitus with 532 mg per day.
  • Melatonin: This powerhouse antioxidant is well known for helping you sleep better. But it can also help individuals with hearing issues. One recent study found that melatonin protects against the type of hearing damage caused by certain antibiotics. Another study noted that older individuals (60-plus) with age-related hearing difficulties were likely to have low levels of melatonin. I recommend everyone take 3-5 mg daily.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: The first clinical trial to focus on the issue of omega-3 and hearing found that the lower an individual’s levels of omega-3s, the greater the likelihood of age-related hearing loss. Similar findings came from a second study examining a group of nearly 3,000 people age 50 and above. I recommend 1000 mg twice daily of a purified omega-3 supplement.

Keep in mind, though, that these five supplements are most effective when supported by the other seven Pillars of Health:

  • A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and small amounts of lean protein
  • Plenty of deep, restorative sleep
  • Fresh, filtered water
  • Regular, moderate exercise
  • Detoxification
  • pH Balance
  • Stress reduction

Ear Protection: A Sound Solution to Noise

Earplugs or earmuffs are essential if you live or work in a noisy environmnet. Earplugs are tested for effectiveness, and the resulting Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is shown on the package. Plugs with a high NRR number provide more protection than those with a low NRR.

I recommend visiting a sporting goods store to see which type of ear protection feels and works best for you. If you’d like to double your protection, wear earplugs and earmuffs at the same time.

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