What’s Stress Got to Do With it?

What Is Oxidative Stress? What is Nrf2 function? Can It Affect My Hearing & Balance? What Can I Do About It?


By Larry G. Martin, AuD


As a recently retired Doctor of Audiology who has worked in the hearing health care industry for nearly 30 years, I would never have guessed there would come a time where my choice of profession would require me to brush up on my radical cell biology education. Not only did I have to brush up, I am learning daily that much of what I had been taught about cellular function has changed dramatically.

Research in the field of radical cell biology has literally exploded in just the past few years.

My interest in this area of study started about three years ago. Back then, a simple web search on PubMed.gov typing in the search bar “oxidative stress” yielded roughly 40,000 peer-reviewed studies related to this search. This same search today yields over 130,000 peer-reviewed medical research studies.

There is good reason for this explosion in studies centered on cell function. Research technology now provides for better research abilities, leading to a much better understanding of cell function and ultimately disease and the disease processes. Researchers are now finding that nearly every disease or pathology may have a direct relationship with oxidative stress.{{1}}[[1]]Peter X. Shaw, Geoff Werstuck, and Yan Chen, “Oxidative Stress and Aging Diseases,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2014, Article ID 569146, 2 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/569146[[1]]


The Hearing Loss Connection

Studies are now beginning to emerge suggesting a link between oxidative stress and hearing loss, tinnitus and balance issues.{{2}}[[2]]Vittorio Calabrese, et al (2010). Oxidative Stress, Redox Homeostasis and Cellular Stress Response in Ménière’s Disease: Role of Vitagenes[[2]]{{3}}[[3]]M. Campbell, K. C. (2009, May 26). Emerging Pharmacologic Treatments for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus.The ASHA Leader[[3]]{{4}}[[4]]Jiang, H. et al (2006). Oxidative imbalance in the aging inner ear[[4]]{{5}}[[5]]Staecker, H. et al (2001). Oxidative Stress in Aging in the C57B16/J Mouse CochleaActa Otolaryngol. Sep 2001; 121(6): 666–672.[[5]]

To understand why oxidative stress may have this connection with hearing and balance, allow me a moment to provide a brief description of cell function as it relates to oxidative stress (damage to cells due to free radicals).{{6}}[[6]]Understanding Free Radicals and Antioxidants[[6]]

How process works.
How stress process works. Courtesy Johnson Center 

Free radicals and oxidants play a dual role as both toxic and beneficial compounds, since they can be either toxic or beneficial to our body. Free radicals are produced either from normal cell metabolism from the by-product of the food we eat or from the air we breathe and are then converted to cell nourishment (similar to fire using wood as its energy source and releasing smoke as its byproduct).

Free radicals can also be derived from external sources such as pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation and medications or other toxins our bodies are exposed to. When an overload of free radicals cannot  be gradually balanced (by antioxidants), their accumulation in the body generates a phenomenon called oxidative stress (think of it being like what rust is to metal). Oxidative stress plays a major part in the development of chronic and degenerative illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, aging, cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, just to list a few. While we used to describe disease processes as conditions we developed, often related to the aging process, we now better understand that these diseases are all classified as oxidative stress-triggered pathologies. This suggests that cell structure and DNA are changed due to free radical damage. Once the cell DNA has been changed, the damaged or diseased cell regenerates as a duplication of the diseased process.

It is now understood that there may be as many as 300 or more disease processes that are “triggered” at the cell level, and new studies are now being generated that are linking hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders as having some direct link to oxidative stress as a causation.1,2,3,4,5

The human body has several mechanisms to counteract oxidative stress. Our cells have the ability to produce antioxidants naturally or to convert food that is high in antioxidants to assist in maintaining a healthy balance in our cell function. While antioxidants can be provided by supplements and through the food we eat, it can be done so only minimally. Research suggests that our bodies can produce enough antioxidants to keep free radicals balanced up to about the age of 20. However, as we grow older our free radical levels increase dramatically, thus increasing our risk factors for diseases resulting from cell and DNA damage caused by free radicals.

Stay tuned next week as Dr. Martin concludes his discussion of the relationship between oxidative stress and hearing disorders.

larry martin audiologist
Dr. Larry Martin

Larry G. Martin, AuD,is an Independent Distributor for LifeVantage nutraceutical products. Following the elimination of severe “roaring'” tinnitus from which he had suffered for over 15 years by a new OTC herbal Nrf2 activator, Dr. Martin decided to close his private audiology practice and, after more than 30 years in clinical audiology, leave that field to pursue his interests in research involving Oxidative Stress and Nrf2 function as it relates to hearing and balance disorders and autoimmune-related disease processes. As an audiologist, he had several private hearing and speech centers, worked in head & neck surgery groups, provided audiology services in a hospital setting and in public schools, and has been an adjunct instructor in an audiology graduate program. Dr. Martin can be reached at martinfour1@gmail.com.

About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, hearing-impaired consumers and those who love them.