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Hormone linked to good hearing as we age

Researchers have linked a hormone known to adjust levels of key brain chemicals to the quality of our hearing as we age. The more of the hormone that older people have in their bloodstream, the better their hearing is, and the less of the hormone, the worse their hearing is.

The hormone, aldosterone, is known to regulate kidney function and also plays a role in controlling levels of two crucial signaling chemicals in the nervous system, potassium and sodium. For nerves to send signals crisply and work properly, potassium and sodium must be in precise proportion, without any disruption in the molecular channels or gates through which they move. Levels of potassium are particularly crucial in the sensitive inner ear, where fluid rich in potassium plays a central role in converting sounds into signals that the nervous system recognizes.

The team of scientists in Rochester, N.Y., put 47 healthy men and women between the ages of 58 and 84 through a battery of sophisticated hearing tests. Scientists also measured their blood levels of aldosterone, which is known to drop as people age. They found that people with severe hearing loss had on average about half as much aldosterone in their bloodstream as their counterparts with normal hearing. The researchers noted, however, that the levels of aldosterone found in all the participants is considered normal, and that no patients or physicians should consider altering aldosterone levels without more research.

The findings come from researchers at the International Center for Hearing and Speech Research (ICHSR), a group funded by the National Institute on Aging that is recognized as a leader in research on age-related hearing loss. The center includes scientists from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology and neuroscientists from the University of Rochester.

"The inner ear is especially sensitive to any disruption in potassium levels," said Robert D. Fris
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
10-Feb-2006


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