It’s no secret that what we consume directly affects our health. The role of diet and nutrition can play a significant role in various diseases, including, as it turns out, hearing loss and tinnitus. Though no specific nutrient or vitamin is able to guarantee your 70-year-old ears will be as sharp as your 20-year-old pair, ensuring your diet is rich in certain components can decrease your risk of hearing loss.
How Does Diet Affect Hearing?
Any diet that can decrease inflammation in the body, boost heart health, and protect the delicate hair cells of the inner ear, will be beneficial for hearing. This is because healthy blood circulation to the ears is essential for good hearing, as is protecting the ear’s sensory hair cells from oxidative damage.
Because the human body isn’t able to synthesize all the nutrients it requires, we need to obtain these from our diet. Just like a diet rich in certain nutrients is beneficial for hearing health, being nutrient-deficient can harm hearing. Research has shown that children suffering from malnutrition are at twice the risk of developing hearing loss in young adulthood compared to well-nourished children.
A Diet for Healthy Hearing
One popularly cited study (Curhan et al, 2020) following the diets of over 3000 women for 22 years found that certain dietary patterns were associated with a lower risk of hearing loss by almost 30%. Previous research has noted that a healthful diet is linked to lower rates of hearing loss even after accounting for differences in heart health and physical activity levels among study participants.
These super, hearing-healthy diets were:
- The Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED), which prioritizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole-grains, legumes, and olive oil. It is low in red meat, preferring fish instead, and keeps alcohol intake to moderate levels.
- The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, similar to the AMED. Additionally, the DASH diet encourages lean meats, low-fat dairy, and limited sodium, sugar, and fats.
- The 2010 Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI-2010), high in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains, and low in sugar, salt, and animal fats.
Singling out individual nutrients as being crucial for healthy hearing is difficult, as it doesn’t take into account the interactions between different nutrients. And unless you’re scoffing single-vitamin supplements by the handful (which you really shouldn’t), you’re probably consuming a number of different nutrients every time you have a meal or a snack.
However, there is some research that points to specific vitamins and minerals as being advantageous for preserving good hearing.
- Potassium is essential for neural signaling and inner ear function. Potassium can be found in black beans, potatoes, spinach, apricots, and bananas.
- Zinc, found in foods such as oysters, cashews, tahini, and dark chocolate, supports cell growth and healing. It’s been linked to managing tinnitus (hearing a phantom ringing or buzzing in the ears) and may also play a role in sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
- Magnesium is a powerful antioxidant, helping to protect the inner ear hair cells from oxidative damage and hearing loss induced by excessive noise. Foods such as bananas, artichokes, broccoli, and tomatoes are good sources of magnesium.
- Folic acid may play a role in regulating blood flow to the inner ear, potentially delaying the onset of hearing loss. It can be found in vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, and spinach.
- Vitamin B12 from meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs, may play a role in treating chronic tinnitus as well as helping to restore hearing in some individuals with sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
- Omega-3 is thought to have the potential to decrease the risk of age-related hearing loss as it’s an essential nutrient for various functions around the body. Though oily fish such as salmon are well-known sources of omega-3, other foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds are also rich in this essential fatty acid.
Following a healthful diet is beneficial for pretty much every bodily function, not just your hearing. When it comes to nutritional supplements, however, approach with caution. Supplements are not a replacement for a nutritious diet, and can also cause harm if taken in excess or if they have the potential to interfere with medications or in certain medical conditions. In addition to eating well, taking other steps to protect your hearing, such as keeping the stereo volume to a reasonable level and quitting smoking, can give your 70-year-old ears the best chance at staying young.