Hearing loss is always a disturbing problem, but it’s one that too often goes untreated. Many people who experience diminished hearing simply accept it as an unfortunate but normal part of life. While it’s true that for some people, age-related hearing loss is unavoidable, the progression of many cases can be halted, signiﬁcantly slowed, or even reversed with proper diagnosis and treatment. And with good nutrition and ear care, it’s often quite possible to prevent hearing loss in the ﬁrst place.
Hearing is a complex combination of many processes in the ear, the nerves, and
the brain, and any disruption of these functions can lead to partial or complete deaf- ness. Nevertheless, hearing problems can generally be categorized according to one of two types: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive hearing loss, which is caused by mechanical problems in the ear’s structures, is by far the more common of the two. Although its tendency to come on suddenly can be frightening, it can often be resolved.
The most frequent cause of conductive hearing impairment is a buildup of wax in the ear canal. Normally, wax (or cerumen, to use its medical name) lines the ear canal and serves as a lubricant. When too much wax accumulates, it can block the canal and can lead to hearing loss, as well as to pain and ringing in the ears. A middle-ear infec- tion can also cause a blockage, especially if the infected ﬂuid remains in the ear for a long time and coagulates around the small bones (ossicles) that are responsible for transmitting sound waves. Ear infections and excessive ear wax are both readily treat- able, often with home care, and several highly effective nutritional strategies can pre- vent the problem from recurring.
In some instances, conductive hearing damage is more serious. If you suffer hear- ing loss after a fall or a blow to the ear or the head, or if you experience a sudden, intense pain in your ear, see your doctor at once. You may have a ruptured ear drum or damage to the hearing sensor, called the organ of Corti. Even innocuous-looking cotton swabs can cause grave damage, including ruptures, when inserted deep into the ear canal. Some drugs can also affect the organ of Corti, so talk to your doctor if you experience hearing loss after starting a new prescription drug. Finally, some con- ductive hearing damage may simply be a part of aging. As the body gets older, the eardrum can thicken and other ear structures may grow weak, leading to partial loss of hearing. More than 40 percent of people seventy-ﬁve and older experience some degree of hearing problems.
Sensorineural hearing damage affects the nerves that receive sound waves and transmit their impulses through the ear and to the brain, where the impulses are reg- istered as the sensory perception of sound. Almost all sensorineural hearing damage is due to high levels of noise. Loud concerts and stereos turned up to full volume may be the most obvious source of excessive noise, but sirens, airplanes, trains, jackham- mers, and construction sounds are common culprits as well. Every time you’re exposed to a loud noise, your auditory nerves are damaged; a lifetime of noises can add up to permanent hearing loss. In some cases, sensorineural hearing problems are caused by other disorders, including diabetes, arteriosclerosis, lupus, and hypothy- roidism. And again, sometimes nerves simply weaken with age and lose their ability to conduct sound effectively. However, recent research has shown that loud noises form free radicals that damage the inner ear. Antioxidants such as vitamin E, zinc, NAC, magnesium, and vitamin A appear to protect against this cause of damage, although they have not been shown to reverse hearing loss. In some cases, tumor growths on the nerves involved with hearing are responsible for the hearing loss. One must also consider other structural possibilities, such as vertebral and soft tissue mis- alignment in the neck and the jaw (TMJ), as well as in cranial bones.
No matter what you suspect the source of your hearing problems to be, it’s impor- tant that you consult a doctor about any sudden hearing loss or any gradual hearing damage that does not resolve itself within a few weeks. For one, the problem may be treatable. Even if you’re older and believe that the hearing problem is due to age- related deterioration of ear structures or nerves, you may be surprised to ﬁnd that the cause is actually wax buildup (something to which people over sixty-ﬁve are prone) or a side effect of medication. If the cause is not obvious to your doctor, he or she
should run tests to rule out an underlying disorder. Finally, even hearing problems that are not reversible by natural means can often be signiﬁcantly improved with hearing aids, electronic implants, or even surgery.
• Hearing loss may occur gradually, or it may happen suddenly.
• Partial or total inability to hear
• Accumulation of ear wax
• Middle-ear infection
• Poor diet and nutritional deﬁciencies
• Food allergies
• Trauma to the ear
• Loud noise
• Age-related weakening of the ear structures and the nerves
• Structural abnormalities (especially cervical spine, TMJ, and cranial bones)
• High cholesterol
• Other disorders that cause hearing loss
For further information about treating infections of the middle ear, see Ear Infection.
Although no one has proven (yet) that antioxidants can reduce or prevent hearing loss, we do know that they slow many aspects of the aging process. Increasing your antiox- idant intake by consuming more deeply colored fruits and vegetables certainly can’t hurt you, and it may prevent or slow hearing damage (along with many other disor- ders we tend to associate with old age).
Eat plenty of ﬁber at every meal. Good sources include whole grains, especially oats and brown rice; beans; nuts and seeds; and raw or lightly cooked fruits and veg- etables. Fiber will improve circulation to your entire body, including your ears. Fibrous foods also tend to require chewing, an activity that discourages wax from accumulating in your ear canals.
Since hypothyroidism can lead to hearing loss, include sea vegetables such as kelp, in your diet. These foods are high in iodine, a mineral that’s necessary for good thy- roid health. You can easily incorporate sea vegetables into soups, especially miso broth, or add them to a stir-fry with brown rice and tofu.
Food to Avoid
If you experience frequent ear infections or a buildup of earwax, you may have a food allergy. Read the Food Allergies section, and follow the elimination diet there; if a certain food provokes ear problems or excess mucus (which can lead to infection), avoid it.
Even if you are not allergic to milk or dairy products, stay away from them for the duration of an infection or a wax problem. Dairy encourages mucus to accumulate, which can encourage infection or excess wax.
If you have a chronic hearing problem, eliminate saturated fat, especially red meat and fried foods, from your diet. Saturated fat contributes to earwax and slows circu- lation to the ear structures. Removing saturated fat from your meals and snacks will also help reverse arteriosclerosis, a disorder that may cause hearing loss.
Bacteria feed on sugar, so people who are prone to ear infections should radically reduce their consumption of it. The best course of action is to cut out all reﬁned sug- ars and have fruit or naturally sweetened products for dessert.
If you have recurring ear infections or wax problems, a short juice fast will help clear your body of excess mucus. Fasting is also helpful for people whose hearing loss is connected to food allergens, as a three-day respite from solid food will rid your sys- tem of the toxic substance.
The following tests help assess possible reasons for hearing loss: Specialized hearing tests by an otologist
Vitamin and mineral analysis (especially magnesium, B12, and iron)—
Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal
Super Seven Prescriptions—Hearing Loss
Super Prescription #1 Ginkgo biloba
Take 60 to 120 mg twice a day of a 24 percent ﬂavone glycosides standardized extract. This herb increases blood ﬂow, which helps ear tissues receive the oxygen and the nutrients they need for good health.
Super Prescription #2 Vitamin B12
Take 200 to 400 mcg of sublingual B12 daily. This B vitamin is important for nerve health.
Super Prescription #3 High-potency multivitamin
Take as directed on the container.
Super Prescription #4 Vitamin E
Take 400 to 800 IU daily. It acts as an antioxidant and improves circulation.
Super Prescription #5 Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) Take 300 mg twice daily. Cayenne improves circulation.
Super Prescription #6 Garlic (Allium sativum)
Take 300 to 600 mg of aged garlic twice daily. Garlic decreases cholesterol levels and improves blood ﬂow.
Super Prescription #7 Bromelain
Take 500 mg three times daily between meals. Look for products standardized to
2,000 M.C.U. (milk-clotting units) per 1,000 mg or 1,200 G.D.U. (gelatin- dissolving units) per 1,000 mg. Bromelain has a natural anti-inﬂammatory effect. Protease enzyme products also have this beneﬁt.
If you have an ear infection, an herbal solution made from 3 or 4 drops of warm olive oil combined with oil of Kyolic garlic, mullein, or lobelia can work wonders. Either lie down on your side until the oil works its way into the ear, or place a cotton ball loosely in the outer ear to the keep the oil from running out.
Marshmallow will help drain excess mucus. Take 2.5 to 3.0 grams twice a day, or take 5 to 15 cc of a tincture three times a day.
For prolonged hearing loss, it’s best to see a homeopathic practitioner for a constitu- tional remedy.
See pages 668-675 for information about pressure points and administering treatment.
• To stimulate better hearing, work these two ear points: Gallbladder 2 (also known as Reunion of Hearing) and Small Intestine 19 (Listening Place).
A head rub will improve circulation; a gentle head massage will also help ease the pain caused by an ear infection.
See pages 686–687 for information about reﬂexology areas and how to work them.
To release pain and stimulate circulation, work the eye/ear area and the neck.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
Spinal and cranial treatments from a chiropractor, an osteopath, a craniosacral prac- titioner, or a naturopath can be helpful in improving nerve ﬂow and circulation.
Several oils beneﬁt circulation, including marjoram, ginger, rosemary, and black pep- per. You can combine any of these with a carrier oil to use in a head massage. If you prefer not to get oil in your hair, you can add the oils to a steam inhalation.
• Protect your ears from loud noises. If you are outdoors and hear a loud sound such a siren or a train whistle, cover your ears; if you’re in a car, roll up the windows.
• Play music at a low to moderate level, and wear earplugs if you must attend a loud concert.
• For those of you who cannot avoid exposure to noises because of your job, invest in earphones that cover your ears, and rest in a quiet place as often as you can.
• Excessive ear wax can often be treated successfully at home. Buy an over-the- counter preparation containing carbamide peroxide and gently squeeze a few
drops in your ear canal. This solution will help soften the wax so that it comes out easily. (You can also use hydrogen peroxide, if you prefer.) Allow the liquid
to remain in your ear for a few minutes; for very hard wax, you may want to wait a day or two. Then use a bulb syringe ﬁlled with warm water to gently ﬂush out the ear. If the plug of wax does not come out immediately, keep trying. It may take some time, but most people ﬁnd that the wax does come out eventually.