(NaturalNews) Hearing loss is one of the biggest roadblocks faced by many people caring for aging parents. The easy and spontaneous communication that previously characterized the relationship between parents and children can turn into shouting, frustration, and feelings of helplessness when hearing loss escalates. Fortunately, hearing loss may no longer have to be an inevitable part of aging. Causes of age-related hearing loss may now be preventable through the use of bioidentical replacement of the hormone aldosterone, and with targeted supplements. Hearing loss may even be restored in many who have given up hope.
People with age-related hearing loss may have only half of the aldosterone they need
Aldosterone is a steroid hormone from the mineralocorticoid family, produced in the adrenal cortex. It regulates kidney function and plays a role in controlling levels of two crucial signaling chemicals in the nervous system, potassium and sodium. Levels of potassium are highly important in the sensitive inner ear, where potassium rich fluid plays a critical role in converting sounds into signals that the nervous system recognizes.
Potassium levels in the inner ear fall as people age, and these falling levels play a role in age-related hearing loss. Blood levels of aldosterone also fall as people age. Decreased aldosterone levels may affect hearing both in the inner ear and in the part of the brain used for hearing.
Scientists in Rochester, New York studied the relation between serum aldosterone levels and age-related hearing loss, and the correlation between these levels and the degree of age-related hearing loss in humans. They found that the more aldosterone that older people have in their bloodstreams, the better their hearing. They put 47 healthy men and women between the ages of 58 and 84 through a battery of sophisticated hearing tests. They found that people with severe hearing loss had an average of half as much aldosterone in their bloodstreams as those with normal hearing.
The ability to discriminate sounds against a noisy background is often very troublesome for older people, even those who are still able to hear fairly well in a quiet situation. Assessment of the ability to hear in noise was part of the Rochester study. The researchers discovered highly significant correlations between pure-tone thresholds in both right and left ears, and hearing in noise scores versus serum aldosterone levels. The effect appeared to be on inner ear hair cells.
These finding are considered landmark. They come from the International Center for Hearing and Speech research, a group funded by the National Institute on Aging that is well recognized as a leader in research on age-related hearing loss. The research included scientists from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, and neuroscientists from the University of Rochester. The full study can be found in the journal Hearing Research, November, 2005.
Aldosterone added to drinking water of mice reversed hearing loss
While the Rochester group was hard at work studying hearing in humans, Dennis Trune and his group in Oregon were busy studying how aldosterone affected hearing in mice. Their early research showed that aldosterone added to the drinking water of mice was equivalent to glucocorticoid drugs for reversing hearing loss in autoimmune mice. Later research showed that the role of aldosterone in restoring auditory function was through increasing stria vascularis sodium transport rather than through the suppression of autoimmune symptoms. In a 2008 study, researchers including Trune showed that aldosterone treatments could improve the physiology of chronic middle and inner ear disease seen with chronic ear infection. These findings are from the Oregon Hearing Research Center, Department of Otolaryngology, Oregon Health and Science University in Portland (Otolaryngology Head Neck Surgery, Nov. 2008).
Dr. Jonathan Wright applies these findings to his patients
Anti-aging specialist, Dr. Jonathan Wright, of the Tahoma Clinic in Renton, Washington is the pioneer in applying this research to his patients with hearing loss. The first patient he treated was suffering from hearing loss along with Meniere's, an autoimmune disease.
He was given 125 mcg of compounded bioidentical aldosterone twice a day for seven months. Although he reports his balance as continuing to remain poor, he recovered 30 dB (at 250 Hz) in his nearly deaf left ear, and about 20 dB across the test frequencies. His sound discrimination went from 70% to 95% in his right ear, while left ear sound discrimination rose from 20% to 65%. Dr. Neil Bauman of the Center for Hearing Loss Help has concluded that aldosterone is great news for people with hearing loss from autoimmune inner ear disease, people with Meniere's, and people who are losing their hearing as a result of aging.
Dr. Wright reports working with another patient who had lost his hearing. His urine test for aldosterone showed a low level, so he was prescribed aldosterone. His hearing returned. When retested, his aldosterone level was in the middle of the normal range. After awhile he stopped taking the aldosterone, and his hearing took a rapid turn for the worse. When he resumed taking aldosterone, his hearing returned once again. Because he was a stickler for proof, he again went off aldosterone and started to lose his hearing, but his wife objected to his experiment, telling him to get back on aldosterone and stay there.
Other patients at Dr. Wright's clinic have been treated with bioidentical aldosterone with similar results. One of them was an eighty-four year old who had developed hearing loss more than ten years before. Urine testing revealed his aldosterone level was low, and he was treated with the hormone. In six weeks, he had a 35 dB recovery in his right ear. His sound discrimination, the ability to tell one sound from another, rose from 23% to 91%. His left ear, which had been declared nearly useless, improved from 3% to 81% in six weeks.
Aldosterone, like all bioidentical hormones, should be restored to optimal levels
For all older people with hearing loss, an aldosterone urine test is recommended by Dr. Wright. Quoted in Suzanne Somer's book, Breakthrough, Dr. Wright says, "I definitely recommend the twenty-four-hour urine test and never, ever believe the doctor who says, well, the normal range on serum aldosterone is 5 to 30 and yours is 6, so you must be okay. No...It's just like with (other) bioidentical hormones, we want to put you in the optimal ranges which would be closer to 30." Dr. Wright has been giving seminars to help other anti-aging physicians get up to speed on aldosterone and hearing loss.
These new research findings are supported by ancient Chinese wisdom
According to naturopathic physician Dr. Eric Chan, there is a theory in traditional Chinese medicine that the kidneys open up to the ears, and thus symptoms such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears), vertigo, and hearing loss may indicate insufficiency in kidney system regulation. In Chinese medicine, the patient's kidney system corresponds to both the kidney organ itself, and the hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. The term adrenal literally means beside kidney.
Restricting sodium makes a low aldosterone situation worse
Low levels of aldosterone are frequently seen in people with tired adrenal glands, a hallmark of aging. When aldosterone is low, the kidneys excrete too much salt. This can lead to low blood pressure, a high pulse rate/and or palpitations, dizziness or light headedness when standing, fatigue, and salt craving. Frequent urination, sweating, and feeling thirsty much of the time can also signal low aldosterone. Restricting sodium only makes a low aldosterone situation worse. The ideal potassium/sodium ratio cannot be maintained when the body is excreting excess sodium. Adding sea salt can be beneficial, because in addition to sodium, sea salt contains other important trace minerals that have been eliminated in the processing of table salt. A quarter to a half teaspoon of added sea salt per day is the usual recommended dose.
When the body is excreting sodium it takes water along with it. The result can be dehydration. The body will struggle to maintain a proper potassium/sodium ratio in the blood, and these levels will appear normal on blood tests. However, inside the cells improper potassium/sodium ratio will reduce cellular energy leading to feelings of fatigue. The signal is sent to the body to crave salt in effort to reestablish proper potassium/sodium ratio inside the cells.
Aldosterone is easily tested by a doctor specializing in anti-aging medicine
Testing to document low aldosterone can be done with urine testing or blood testing. Each type of testing has its supporters. The best way to have this testing done is through a doctor who specializes in anti-aging medicine or hormone replacement. These are the physicians most open to hormone testing and replacing diminished hormone levels with bioidentical hormones. Allopathic doctors will generally rely on drugs which can never produce the quality of results that can be obtained by bioidentical hormone replacement.
Other interventions may help with hearing loss
In a 1998 study of women over age 60 with age-related hearing loss, there was a 38% incidence of lower levels of vitamin B12 and a 31% incidence of lower folic acid values than for women with normal hearing. Supplying B12 and folic acid could be helpful in boosting hearing, according to Dr. Jim Howenstine, MD. Deficiencies of vitamin D can cause hearing loss that sometimes reverses with supplementation of 3000 to 4000 I.U. of vitamin D daily. Gingko Biliba and vinpocetine are other nutrients that may offer some relief from hearing loss by increasing blood flow.
Aldactone (spironolactone) is a drug that can block the effect of aldosterone in the body. Research by the Trune team in Oregon used Aldactone to determine whether it was suppression of the immune system by prednisone or activation of aldosterone that produced hearing recovery in what had been assumed to be an auto-immune loss of hearing. They found that Aldactone prevented recovery of hearing, making it clear that aldosterone was responsible for the hearing improvement and not prednisone. (Laryngoscope, February, 2002).
Aging parents may face hearing loss ramifications
The bottom line is that making every effort to halt the degeneration resulting from hormonal decline in our parents is one of the best things we can do for them and for ourselves. Hearing loss not only negatively impacts the ability of the adult child to communicate effectively and with caring, but also has social ramifications for parents. When hearing levels decline social isolation sets in, and with it may come depression or cognitive decline. As new information becomes available, everything should be done to assure the golden years can be the frustration-free, socially active, and spontaneous time parents have worked so hard to earn.
Jonathan Wright as interviewed by Suzanne Somers, Breakthrough, 2008.
About the author
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.