Free Radicals, Stress, and Hearing Disorders

Today we conclude with Part 2 of Dr. Martin’s discussion of Oxidative Stress and Hearing Disorders

larry martin audiologist
Dr. Larry Martin


By Larry G. Martin, AuD

We have been taught for many years now that if we eat foods high in antioxidants that we will reduce our risk factors for disease processes caused from free radical damage. More recent studies discovered that while eating healthy fruits and vegetables is good for cellular health, we cannot eat enough of these types of foods to make a measurable change in free radical levels.

For example, while blueberries and oranges are considered high in antioxidants, it would require as much as 15 pounds of blueberries or over 300 oranges a day to produce enough antioxidants that would show a maximum drop in our free radicals levels.

There is a fundamental difference between direct antioxidants (obtained from the food we eat or supplements such as Vitamins C & E) and indirect antioxidants (antioxidants produced by the cells). Direct antioxidants work in a 1 to 1 relationship.

It takes one molecule of a direct antioxidant to remove one free radical. Indirect antioxidants, those generated at the cellular level, work on a 1 to 1 million relationship. One molecule of our own antioxidants can reduce one million free radicals every second, 24/7.

Is There Anything You Can Do To Reduce Free Radicals?

Scientists have determined{{1}}[[1]]Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health Lien Ai Pham-Huy, Hua He, Chuong Pham-Huy Int J Biomed Sci. 2008 June; 4(2): 89–96.[[1]]that some foods and supplements known to be high in antioxidants can turn on this Nrf2{{2}}[[2]]The Nrf2 antioxidant response pathway is “the primary cellular defense against the cytotoxic effects of oxidative stress.” Read more on Nrf2[[2]]function to a limited degree (about 5%). There is scientific evidence of significantly higher Nrf2 activation with the use of specific nutraceuticals.

The science behind Nrf2 function is a subject worthy of extensive conversation, but in this post I will only introduce what it is and how it plays a major role in our overall health. Recent findings have suggested that our cells have a master switch that regulates the production of a defense mechanism that fights to keep our cells healthy; in essence, it up-regulates our autoimmune fighting abilities.

This switch mechanism is called Nrf2, which is a protein that sends a wakeup call to every cell in your body. Activation of Nrf2 essentially allows the cells of our body to produce important antioxidants. Unfortunately, as we age this Nrf2 function decreases and we start to see higher levels of free radicals because we no longer produce enough antioxidants to balance them. Hence the need for some form of Nrf2 activator.{{3}}[[3]]Oxidative stress in health and disease: the therapeutic potential of Nrf2 activation.Hybertson BMGao BBose SKMcCord JMMol Aspects Med. 2011 Aug;32(4-6):234-46. doi:10.1016/j.mam.2011.10.006. Epub 2011 Oct 15.[[3]]

As of this writing there is only one nutraceutical herbal product on the market that has been scientifically shown to increase Nrf2 function by 1800% and reduce free radicals by an average of 40%. There are numerous products that are labeled as Nrf2 activators, but many of these are manufactured with indirect antioxidants and do not provide any more Nrf2 activation than a good multivitamin (5%).

Investigate a product before taking the word of the manufacturer. You can do a search on the government research website (  In the search bar, type the product name and see if any universities have published research data that provides the Nrf2 up-regulation, before wasting money on these products.

Now, What Does this Cellular Process Have to With Hearing Loss?

There have been a number of recent studies suggesting that what we have traditionally referred to as hearing loss due to the aging process (sensorineural hearing loss) would be more accurately described as oxidative stress pathology. Oxidative stress, as related to hearing and balance, induces inflammation that ultimately results in hair cell damage that may result in hearing loss, tinnitus or balance disorders. The resulting imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants when up-regulated with an Nrf2 activator or supplement may be a link that will provide some hope of protecting against and possibly even reversing some symptoms of oxidative diseases.

Significant reduction in free radicals may prove to be helpful in a variety of disease processes, including cochlear and inner ear pathologies.

As more research is conducted into free radical disease processes, antioxidants, and Nrf2 function, we may find products, available now or in the near future, that can control some types of hearing loss, reverse or reduce tinnitus, and provide relief ftom balance disorders by reducing free radicals through Nrf2 activation.

The question that seems to be getting closer to being answered is whether or not the imbalance between free radical levels and a shortage of anti-oxidants to reduce them can be the factor causing some types of hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders. In addition, there is a method of increasing Nrf2 function by means of an over-the-counter herbal supplement that is providing for future understanding of many oxidative stress-related diseases and may be a factor for hearing loss, tinnitus and balance-related symptoms as well.{{4}}[[4]]M. Campbell, K. C. (2009, May 26)Emerging Pharmacologic Treatments for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus.The ASHA Leader[[4]]

It’s not Likely Your Healthcare Provider Is an Expert

Since this is cutting-edge research, you can’t expect your medical provider or your audiologist to be an expert in Nrf2 function. But don’t be afraid to ask them to investigate this subject for you. The research is still in its infancy and it may take several years before enough information has been generated to be clinically helpful. However, with such clear results from current studies, there is reason for hope and excitement that “age old” conditions may in fact be able to be improved with the activation of Nrf2 in our cell function.

Larry G. Martin, AuD, is an Independent Distributor for LifeVantage nutraceutical products. Following the elimination of severe ‘roaring’ tinnitus he had suffered with for over 15 years by means of a new OTC herbal Nrf2 activator, Dr. Martin decided to change his career path.  After more than 30 years experience in clinical audiology in private practice, hospital-based head & neck surgery center, and pediatric audiology. Dr. Martin closed his private practice to pursue his interests in research on Oxidative Stress and Nrf2 function relating to hearing and balance disorders and autoimmune-related disease processes. Dr. Martin can be reached at


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