It’s all about your hormones. Growing up, maturing, getting old–all of these life-changing events are triggered by certain hormone changes in your body. And, it turns out, age-related hearing loss just might have something to do with your hormones as well. That’s why promising new research is starting to test what might happen if some of those hormones are supplemented as you age.
A team out of the University of South Florida started providing mice with a combination of aldosterone and common anti-inflammatory medications. This novel combination was so effective in helping those mice preserve their hearing that human trials are now being scheduled.
The Many Causes of Hearing Loss
Hold the phone (that’s an old saying… it means, uh, “wait a minute, something doesn’t add up here”). You’re probably thinking that excess noise is supposed to cause hearing loss, not hormone changes. Does this mean you’ve been misled all your life and you could have turned the volume up on your stereo?
Well, no. Hearing loss is a condition that has many causes. One of those causes is certainly excess noise (especially excess noise over time). Another cause, for some individuals, might be changed in body chemistry. Research has discovered that as your body stops producing a steroid-like hormone called aldosterone, the health of your ears can begin to wane.
It’s possible that either of these causes may individually contribute to hearing loss. Likewise, it’s also possible that a lack of aldosterone could diminish your resistance to the trauma of loud noises (or vice versa). As a human being, you don’t really know one from the other, so what matters is that you take steps to protect your ears and your hearing. Today, that means wearing hearing protection and getting hearing screenings. In the future, that might also mean taking hormone supplements.
How Does This Hormone Work?
According to the published results, researchers at the University of South Florida separated mice into two groups: those who would receive aldosterone treatments and those who would not. (This is a fairly standard scientific practice, as you need a “control” group against which to compare your variable.)
The untreated mice experienced a 50% drop in aldosterone levels–a common occurrence due to aging. But the treated mice showed near-normal levels of the hormone. This means that the aldosterone supplements were indeed successfully absorbed by the mice.
Next, the researchers compared the incidence and severity of hearing loss in these mice. Overall, the mice that were given the aldosterone treatments did not show signs of age-related hearing loss. The control group showed hearing loss at normal rates. The conclusion, then, seems to be that the aldosterone helps stave off hearing loss.
Implications for People with Hearing Loss
The aldosterone treatments were given continually to these mice over the course of four months. If you convert that into human years, that equals consistent treatments for something like 5-7 years.
That kind of preventative medicine isn’t uncommon, especially as your years begin to accumulate. You might take medication to control cholesterol or prevent heart disease for years–even lifetimes. So the notion of taking aldosterone supplements for a 7-year span is not necessarily unrealistic.
The next step for these aldosterone treatments is the organization of human trials. Researchers are excited because there were no observed negative side effects in the mice that were treated. Of course, what happens in mice doesn’t always directly translate into people (that’s why human trials are so important). There are still several years of testing ahead for this hormone supplement before it’ll ever see shelves. But the prospect of a pill you can take to help prevent hearing loss is incredibly exciting–and worth keeping your eye on. Who knows what other health issues this could help.
Without a (Magic) Pill, How Can I Prevent Hearing Loss?
Just because aldosterone supplements are not on the market today doesn’t mean you have to leave your hearing totally undefended. You can still take steps today to prevent hearing loss (or to prevent an escalation of the hearing loss you already have).
First, make sure you’re not overloading your ears (it’s not just the super loud noises you have to watch out for–it’s the moderate sounds at long durations). And if you can’t avoid loud noises, at least wear some hearing protection (earmuffs or earplugs work best). Above all, regular hearing screenings can help you catch any hearing loss early–and take steps to ensure it doesn’t get worse.
You might not be able to control your hormones entirely, but you can take steps to prevent hearing loss.