While we are always on the lookout for evidence that a high-fat, high-sugar diet has health benefits, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that healthy eating can positively impact hearing health. The bright side is that the degree and impact of hearing loss might be to some extent within our control. Even if your own hearing loss is genetic or sustained by injury to the ear, a healthy heart might mitigate its effects and/or prevent it from worsening as you age.
What are the links between diet and hearing loss?
One in three adults over age 65 has hearing loss, but a recent three-year study at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s hospital showed evidence that women who ate healthier diets had a 25% lower risk of high-frequency hearing loss. Common in older adults, high-frequency hearing loss makes high-pitched sounds more difficult to hear and can make speech muffled and hard to understand.
Even more promising, a news release also stated 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." (More on those dietary patterns below.)
Why does diet make a difference?
Overall cardiac health is important to the health of our auditory system. Blood flow to the ears facilitates our hearing, and the intricate workings of the inner ear are especially sensitive to inflammation and changes in blood pressure and oxygen levels. Conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, which damage veins and arteries, can negatively affect hearing health over time. In addition, antioxidant foods, which prevent inflammation, help to maintain good circulation and ensure that the ears get what they need to continue functioning properly.
What kind of diet helps prevent hearing loss?
Adjusting for high blood pressure, smoking and exercise habits among test subjects, the Brigham and Women’s study concluded that the Mediterranean diet wins once again. The study tested three different dietary regimens and concluded that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and lean meats, nuts and healthy oils—as well as low in sugar and alcohol—correlate with hearing health.
While other studies have looked for particular vitamins’ impact on hearing, including folate, the case for an overall healthy diet remains strongest.
As hearing loss becomes more common and at younger ages, maintaining healthy habits might be even more important in slowing or preventing its effects. The hopeful takeaway is that age-based hearing loss is not necessarily inevitable, and there’s much we might do to lessen its extent.