Many of us are being very health conscience these days. You may be watching your diet due to existing health issues, or you may just want to stay healthy, lose weight, and keep it off. Whatever the reason, there are many health benefits to a healthy diet and lifestyle, but have you ever thought that what you eat may impact your hearing health?
A study done by Brigham and Women’s Hospital followed the health of 70,000 women for 22 years. These women ate one of three diets: the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED), the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010). These diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains, low-fat meats such as seafood or poultry, and low-fat dairy. It was also recommended that the women limit their intake of red meat, processed foods, and sugary drinks.
The results of this study showed that the women following these diets decreased their chances of hearing loss by 30%. One interesting result the researchers found was that minerals such as folic acid, potassium, and zinc decreased the risk of hearing loss also (Hearing Health Foundation 2018).
Let’s look at each of these nutrients separately and why they help with hearing. Potassium, which is found in bananas, potatoes, and legumes, helps the function of the inner ear and the way sounds are converted into signals that are interpreted by the brain. Zinc, which is found in nuts and dark chocolate, has been found to help with tinnitus. This has been noted in people who had low zinc levels in their blood. Zinc plays a role in the synapse of the auditory system. Unfortunately, in a 2016 study by Person, Pug, da Sliva and Torloni, there was no evidence that the use of oral zinc supplements improves symptoms in adults with tinnitus. Folic acid may slow the onset of hearing loss, known to regulate blood flow. The inner ear needs a constant regulated flow of blood to keep it functioning, and this is where folic acid can help. Examples of foods rich in folic acid are leafy greens and broccoli.
Healthy eating during our adult life certainly is beneficial to our overall health and our hearing health, but good nutrition should start during childhood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that children with poor nutrition have an increased risk of adult health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. A recent study showed that children with poor nutrition were twice as likely to suffer hearing loss as a young adult.
A study at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at the relationship between hearing health and nutrition in 2,200 young adults in Nepal. This study showed that those adults who were too short or too thin for their age and had a history of malnutrition were twice as likely to show signs of hearing loss. It is thought that poor nutrition that leads to stunted growth can also lead to poor ear development beginning in the womb, and being underweight due to malnutrition can increase the risk of developing ear infections.
People with diabetes are more likely to develop hearing loss than people who are non-diabetic. According to a National Institute of Health study by Chika Horikawa, PhD, pre-diabetic subjects have a 30% increased risk of hearing loss. Having type two diabetes for a long period of time will take its toll on your hearing as well as other parts of the body. Diabetes damages the nerves of blood vessels of the body.
So what foods are best for your hearing health? Coincidently, they are the same foods that are good for your overall health. To maintain healthy hearing, it is recommended to eat foods rich in vitamin B12, folic acid, omega 3s, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. Studies have shown that a diet rich in these nutrients helps fight off the free radicals that are damaging to our bodies and our hearing.
Conversely, decreasing certain foods in your diet can help preserve your hearing and your overall health. These foods are vegetable oils (use extra virgin or canola oil instead), processed foods, foods with partially hydrogenated oils, whole or 2% milk, cream cheese, sugar or artificial sweetener (use stevia or honey instead), refined carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta, sodium, and foods with chemicals or pesticides (stick with organic when possible).
As you can see, leading a healthy lifestyle can have more benefits than you thought. Eating right helps every aspect of your health. It is not too late to start a healthy lifestyle. Changing your diet and incorporating some exercise slowly will make a new lifestyle more manageable, which means you’ll be more likely to succeed.
If you think you have issues with your hearing or would like to establish a baseline, please call Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic and schedule an audiological evaluation with one of our audiologists. We will also answer questions and give you recommendations to maintain your hearing health.
Dianna Randolph, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).