If "Say again," and "I didn’t catch that," are phrases you use too many times each day, you may have presbycusis–a condition better known as age-related hearing loss.
As age-related health issues go, presbycusis is obviously not as serious as macular degeneration or osteoporosis. But it’s driving Richard crazy.
I’ve known Richard for about 10 years. He’s not quite 60 yet, but he told me his gradual hearing loss bothers him enough that he avoids many social functions because it’s hard to carry on a conversation over the murmur of the crowd. Add a little music and it just gets worse.
"Say again? I didn’t catch that." It’s frustrating and embarrassing.
Richard knows there’s probably a hearing aid in his future. But before he gets fitted for a device, he might want to try supplements that may improve blood flow to the inner ear.
Homocysteine is best known for creating heart problems. Most importantly, an elevated homocysteine level is an independent risk factor for heart disease. High levels of this amino acid are also linked with Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and vision problems.
Your hearing may take a hit from homocysteine too.
Research shows that high homocysteine can obstruct blood flow to the cochlea–the section of the inner ear that converts vibrations to electrical signals.
Deprive the cochlea of an adequate blood supply, and damage begins.
So could a couple of B vitamins help?
Well, we know that high levels of vitamin B12 and folate (also known as B9) are associated with low homocysteine levels. So researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia, reviewed data collected from nearly 3,000 subjects over the age of 50 who participated in the Blue Mountains Hearing Study.
Results showed that high blood levels of homocysteine increased risk of hearing loss, and low folate levels sharply increased that risk even more. But surprisingly, low B12 was not significantly linked to hearing loss.
Improving the flow
Homocysteine levels tend to rise as we age. So…if folate is low, homocysteine high, and hearing is impaired, can some folic acid (synthetic folate) help?
One study says yes. But don’t expect miracles.
Researchers in the Netherlands gave 800 micrograms of folic acid or a placebo to nearly 730 subjects over the age of 50 with high homocysteine levels. After three years, average rate of decline in hearing low frequencies was significantly less in the folic acid group compared to placebo. But both groups had similar decline in hearing higher frequencies.
But folic acid isn’t your only option.
Vinpocetine is an herbal extract that improves circulation. Ideally, it might help alleviate reduced blood flow to the cochlea–especially when your meal plan contains dietary sources of folate, such as beans, chickpeas, asparagus, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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