What you eat may play an important role in how well you hear, especially as you get older, according to the latest research.
In a 2019 study, women who reported eating healthier diets had lower rates of hearing loss than those who had a less-healthy diet. The study, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, included 3,135 women and was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The researchers measured the women’s hearing, and then three years later measured their hearing again. The women who reported closely adhering to commonly recommended healthy diets were 25 percent less likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss than those who didn’t.
The team also found that “the odds of a decline in mid-frequency hearing sensitivities were almost 30 percent lower among those whose diets most closely resembled these healthful dietary patterns,” according to a news release from the hospital.
“Given that hearing loss is so common, a 30% lower risk is considerable,” said lead author Dr. Sharon Curhan, MD, a physician and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston. “These findings strongly suggest that the development of hearing loss with age may not be inevitable and that eating a healthy diet may be helpful in reducing the risk.”
Which diets may help prevent hearing loss?
The study was an extension of previous research published in 2018 that found a similar pattern when looking at a large group of women participating in the Nurses Healthy Study II. In that study, researchers saw a positive correlation with a healthy diet and lower rates of hearing loss. This pattern held true even after researchers accounted for physical activity and cardiac health status, according to a summary from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which helped fund the study.
The diets included the alternate Mediterranean diet (AMED), the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and the 2010 Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI-2010).
- AMED is based on “fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. It encourages eating fish and drinking only a moderate amount of alcohol.
- DASH encourages fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, fish, and low-fat dairy, and limits sodium, sugar, and fat.
- AHEI-2010 encourages vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and limits sugar, salt, and animal fat,” states the NIH.
Why would diet impact hearing?
There are several theories why a healthier diet may protect against hearing loss, much of it related to our overall cardiac health, Dr. Curhan said.
A healthy diet is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and conditions that inflame or damage the arteries and veins, such as diabetes. Just as with overall health, blood flow to the ears is very important for healthy hearing. The inner ear—which is responsible for detecting sound—is especially vulnerable to changes in oxygen levels, inflammation and blood pressure, for example.
“A healthy diet can also be an important source of antioxidants, which help protect against damage from oxidative stress,” she said. (Oxidative stress is linked to cell damage.) Curhan also said that many fruits and vegetables provide essential antioxidant vitamins and minerals that our bodies cannot make on their own.
What about vitamins and minerals?
In fact, there’s been some research looking at how the vitamins and minerals in our diet may improve our hearing health.
One study, for example, showed that supplementing older men’s diet with the vitamin folate (also known as folic acid) helped lower the risk of hearing loss. It is one of several vitamins linked to healthy hearing. Additionally, the minerals potassium, zinc and magnesium are all essential for preserving good hearing.
Other ways to prevent hearing loss
It’s important to note that these two studies weren’t designed to prove cause and effect, only that a pattern exists between a healthy diet and a reduced risk of hearing loss. And because hearing loss has many causes—from exposure to excessive noise to genetics—a healthy diet can only offer so much protection. That’s why it’s important to know the other main ways for how to prevent hearing loss.
If you think you have hearing loss
Hearing loss is increasingly linked to not just struggles with communication, but also cognitive decline, depression and social isolation. If you or a loved one is worried about hearing loss, find a hearing care provider near you.