By Dr. Mercola
The mineral zinc has received some attention as of late because it appears to help fight the common cold when taken at the onset of symptoms.
However, new research has shown another potential use in regard to idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss, also known as SSNHL.
What to Know About Zinc if You Experience Sudden Hearing Loss
SSNHL, which is a sudden, unexplained loss of hearing, impacts about five to 20 people per 100,000 each year, although it's suspected that a significant number of cases go unreported.
Recovery is possible (and occurs in an estimated 32-65 percent of cases), but treatment usually involves systemic, high-dose steroids even though their use is controversial and evidence to support their efficacy is limited.
While it's not known exactly why some people develop SSNHL, one theory is that a viral infection or immunologic disease is involved, which brings us to zinc.
The reason why zinc has received some attention in regard to fighting colds is because it appears to have some anti-viral properties that prevent the cold virus from replicating or attaching to your nasal membranes.
Research also indicates zinc may have immune-boosting properties, allowing your body to mount a stronger first response at the onset of a viral infection.
This may help explain new research showing zinc supplementation may enhance the hearing recovery of SSNHL patients.
For the study, 66 SSNHL patients were randomly divided into two groups. Thirty-three were given corticosteroid treatment (control group) and 33 were given oral zinc gluconate plus corticosteroid treatment (zinc group). The zinc group reported a significantly larger hearing gain, an increased percentage of recovery, and an increased rate of successful recovery compared with the control group. Further, a significant correlation was found between serum zinc level changes and post-treatment hearing thresholds.
Regarding zinc, the researchers noted:
"Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may help reduce the oxidative stress of the cochlea in SSNHL, implying a new direction in the treatment of this disease."
Many are Deficient in Zinc
The study does not extend so far as to suggest that a zinc deficiency might be a contributing factor in SSNHL, however it is important to make sure you have enough of this essential mineral regardless. It's estimated that up to 45 percent of adults over the age of 60 may have lower than recommended zinc intakes; even when dietary supplements were added in, an estimated 20-25 percent of older adults still had inadequate zinc intakes, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
One of the symptoms of zinc deficiency is actually frequent colds and infections, and zinc is also important to protect your body against oxidative stress and DNA repair. While some level of oxidative stress is a normal result of your body processes, many factors, from pollution to obesity to mental stress, can cause an excess of free radicals in your body -- and this is associated with oxidative stress and various chronic diseases and aging.
If you are deficient in zinc, your body may become less able to repair genetic damage caused by oxidative stress. Having low levels of zinc has even been found to cause strands of DNA to break and studies have linked zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, infection and autoimmune diseases.
A report in the British Medical Journal noted that more than 300 catalytically active zinc metalloproteins and more than 2,000 zinc-dependent transcription factors involved in gene expression of various proteins have been recognized. In a nutshell, there are more biological roles for zinc than for most other trace elements put together. For example, it plays a crucial role in:
- Cell growth
- Gene transcription (the process that allows your cells to read genetic instructions)
- Keeping your immune system strong
- Stabilizing your metabolic rate and balancing your blood sugar
- Maintaining your sense of taste and smell
A Well-Balanced Diet is the Best Source of Zinc
Any time you isolate one mineral and ingest it independently of the others, the potential exists for imbalance, or in the worst case, overdose, and this is true of zinc. Taking too much zinc can interfere with your body's ability to absorb other minerals, especially copper. Further, in 2010 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers to stop using Zicam nasal sprays and swabs, which contain zinc, after numerous reports that some users lost their sense of smell after using the product.
For adults, the RDA for zinc is about 11 milligrams per day for adult men and 8 milligrams for women. If you are lactating or pregnant, you need about 3 mg more. For children, 4-8 year olds need about 5mg, and 9-13 year olds need 8mg, while infants need only about 3 mg.
Besides protein-rich foods like meats and fish, other good dietary sources of zinc include raw milk, raw cheese, beans, and yogurt or kefir made from raw milk. If you are healthy and you eat a well-balanced diet, you will rarely need supplements to complete your body's zinc needs.
Are There Other Natural Options for Sudden Hearing Loss?
So far, in addition to zinc research suggests the following may improve recovery in cases of sudden hearing loss:
In the event you experience sudden hearing loss, it's important to seek qualified medical help immediately, as it appears the sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances of recovery.