How a Healthy Diet Can Impact Hearing Health

How a Healthy Diet Can Impact Hearing Health

In hearing, Hearing Health by flywheel

Hearing loss isn’t necessarily an inevitable part of aging. While it’s true that aging is one of the contributors of inner ear function, preventative measures in the form of lifestyle choices and habits can affect the outcome of wellbeing and quality of life. 

Experts have long advised that a healthy diet prevents certain negative outcomes often associated with the aging process, but new research provides inarguable evidence. 

Healthy habits predict better outcomes

From a study conducted from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, researchers found that women closely following healthy diets, such as the Alternative Mediterranean Diet (AMED) or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, were significantly less likely to experience hearing loss.

Using satellite testing sites spanning the nation, researchers collected data on two decades of information from the study’s participants and rated them in terms of their resemblance to what was defined as a healthy diet. Then, they monitored the hearing health of the cohort over the course of three years, noting changes. 

Among those who had what was considered a ‘healthy diet,’ hearing health outcomes indicated that there was a 30 percent lower risk of diminished mid-frequency hearing sensitivity, which is where human speech often falls. Among higher frequency hearing loss, scientists saw a 25 percent lower risk of hearing decline in tandem with a healthy diet. 

It seems that a healthy diet might prevent the type of hearing loss that most interrupts our ability to understand speech. However, more research is needed on this topic, spanning a variety of populations, as the cohort of focus was comprised of white, middle-aged women. 

Hearing loss and aging

Losing the ability to hear or understand what people are saying is one of the early symptoms of hearing loss, an issue referred to as speech clarity.

As we age, the sensitive cells within the inner ear begin to decline. We are born with a finite number, and so as we lose them, we have less to work with. They are integral to the hearing process because their job is to receive the sound around us. These cells turn the noise into sound information, or electrical signals, that are then sent to the brain via the auditory nerve where they are interpreted.

As we lose cells, we are able to collect less of the sound happening around us, our brain receives less sound information and our experience is that we hear less. At first, it might seem that people are mumbling or slurring their words so that it’s difficult and frustrating to understand speech. 

However, as the Brigham and Women’s study suggests, aging itself does not dictate future hearing loss. The lead author of the study, Sharon Curhan, MD, advises adopting lifestyle habits that help protect healthy hearing. “A common perception is that hearing loss is an inevitable part of the aging process. However, our research focuses on identifying potentially modifiable risk factors — that is, things that we can change in our diet and lifestyle to prevent hearing loss or delay its progression,” says Dr. Curhan.

Why diet might impact hearing

We know that following a diet eschewing highly processed food and high in fruits, vegetables, fiber and fatty fish can have long term benefits to the human body. By incorporating these powerful foods, we are delivering the nutrients and minerals required by our cells for optimum functioning. In some cases, these nutritional benefits help to protect cells, like the inner ear cells, from the damage caused by aging and noise. On the other hand, eating in a way that helps the circulatory system function can also have a positive effect on hearing health because it helps our ear tissues receive abundant, oxygen-rich blood. 

Monitor your hearing health

Adopting a nourishing diet is only half of the equation, we also need to spend time prioritizing and monitoring hearing health. An interesting aspect of this study was the average age of the participants: most were in their 50s and early 60s. 

Currently, it is advised that people over 50 years of age have their hearing tested once every three years before turning 65, at which point the suggested frequency advances to an annual hearing exam. The study’s results, however, indicate that hearing decline often happens at a younger age. It may be that most people would benefit from annual exams beginning in their mid-50s.