By Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar 5 April 2013
Several physicians and researchers have attempted to treat hearing loss with a hormone called aldosterone, which is produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands.
Who would have thought that a hormone could help reverse hearing loss? I certainly would not have made the connection if not for one of my patients who came to see me after having visited several ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists, who could not help her with her hearing problems.
As I have an interest in the use of bio-identical hormones, I did some research of my own in this area. I was pleasantly surprised to find that several physicians and researchers have already done some work in treating hearing loss with a hormone called aldosterone.
It was gratifying for both me and my patient when we found that bio-identical replacement of aldosterone helped to reverse her hearing loss.
This can give hope to many other people, especially the elderly, who face poor quality of life issues due to progressive loss of their hearing.
It has always been thought that one of the inevitable consequences of getting older is losing your hearing.
Many elderly (or just slightly older) people find it increasingly difficult to hear conversations around them. They keep having to ask people to repeat what they’re saying, they turn up the volume of the television and radio, and they can’t even hear themselves speak sometimes.
Hearing loss can have significant consequences on a person’s quality of life. When you can’t hear, your communication with family and friends suffers, as everything has to be repeated or shouted.
You also find that there is less enjoyment in the things that you used to love, such as music or movies. This can leave you feeling frustrated or helpless.
Hearing loss is most commonly caused by injury to the hair cells lining the middle ear. These tiny hairs are responsible for transmitting sound to the brain. These hair cells can be damaged by exposure to excessive noise or decreased blood flow due to atherosclerosis, hypertension or diabetes.
If, like my patient, you are at your wits’ end because you have already seen numerous ENT specialists who were unable to help you, you may want to consider bio-identical hormones. This may be the solution to help you stop or even reverse your hearing loss.
What is aldosterone?
Aldosterone is a steroid hormone from the mineralocorticoid family and is produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands.
This hormone plays a role in regulating kidney function and in controlling levels of two signalling chemicals – potassium and sodium – in the nervous system.
This is the first clue that aldosterone is important for hearing: potassium is needed in the inner ear, where a potassium-rich fluid converts sounds into signals that the nervous system can identify.
Therefore, aldosterone helps to maintain a healthy level of potassium in the body, which in turn, helps to maintain hearing.
However, as people age, the amount of aldosterone produced in the body decreases, because the adrenal glands do not work as well as they should.
At the same time, potassium levels fall as well. This may explain why age-related hearing loss develops, because low aldosterone could affect hearing both in the inner ear and in the part of the brain that processes sounds.
There is some scientific evidence to back this up. A study in mice several years ago found that aldosterone added to the drinking water of the mice had the same effect as glucocorticoid drugs for reversing hearing loss.
Research has also been carried out in humans. Scientists from the International Center for Hearing and Speech in the US measured levels of aldosterone in people with severe hearing loss and found that they have half the amount of aldosterone compared to people with normal hearing.
However, too much aldosterone in the body is not healthy either. Large amounts of aldosterone, caused when a benign tumour grows on the adrenal cortex, can lead to high blood pressure and low serum potassium values.
If low aldosterone is thought to contribute to hearing loss, then a logical intervention would be to replace the hormone in the body.
Dr Jonathan V. Wright is one of the physicians in the US who uses bio-identical replacement of aldosterone to treat hearing loss in his patients, and he claims to have had success with this therapy.
Bio-identical hormone therapy is also known as “natural hormone therapy”. Bio-identical hormones are not synthetic hormones, but they are made in a laboratory using a plant chemical extracted from yam and soy.
The difference between bio-identical hormones and synthetic ones are that the former behave exactly like the hormones our body produces.
Dr Wright prescribes bio-identical aldosterone to his patients in “physiologic” quantities, meaning amounts that are normally present in the body (no more than that). He found that this therapy had success in more than half of his patients suffering from hearing loss.
Aldosterone therapy is believed to not only restore hearing significantly within rapid time (from a couple of weeks to a couple of months), but is also effective in patients who had lost their hearing many years ago.
Other physicians are looking at different supplement-based interventions to help with hearing loss. Vitamin B12 and folic acid, as well as vitamin D, are among the micronutrients that are believed to boost hearing.
Gingko biloba and vinpocetine supplements are also believed to increase blood flow, which helps improve hearing. More research will have to be carried out to investigate the safety and efficacy of these supplements.
Meanwhile, bio-identical aldosterone therapy may be helpful for people with hearing loss who have not found success with other treatments.
When using bio-identical aldosterone therapy, it is important to monitor the levels of aldosterone, potassium and sodium in the body to ensure that they remain within normal levels.
Not just anyone can prescribe bio-identical hormones, so be sure to speak to a qualified physician or pharmacist, particularly one specialising in anti-ageing medicine or bio-identical hormone therapy. –