We know the many benefits of healthy eating: disease prevention, enhanced mood, improved cognitive function etc. A healthy diet boosts wellness and is one of the most critical ways we can be proactive about caring for and protecting our health. Healthy eating can significantly reduce the risk of various medical conditions including hearing loss.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition that older adults experience in the U.S., making it a public health epidemic. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Hearing loss can strain communication, significantly impact how you navigate your daily life. Practicing healthy eating can reduce the risk of hearing loss and live quality lives!
Impact of Diet on Hearing
Several factors can contribute to the development of hearing loss including environmental exposure to loud noise, genetic history, and existing medical conditions. Health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and dementia have been linked to hearing loss. Research has shown that eating a healthy diet can prevent these medical conditions, reducing the risk of hearing loss. Healthy eating supports a robust immune system, arteries, blood flow, balanced cholesterol levels; which collectively work to prevent blockages, inflammation, infections etc.
Research from numerous studies show that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of hearing loss. The latest research includes a study from 2019 conducted at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. This study revealed that adherence to specific diets is linked to lowered risk of hearing loss. Seeking to study the impact of dietary patterns on hearing, researchers collected evaluated data from 20 years of dietary intake information and hearing test results for 3,135 participants throughout the U.S. They found that people following a healthy diet were:
- nearly 30% less likely to experience mid-frequency hearing loss
- nearly 25% less likely to experience high frequency hearing loss
These findings show that making changes to our lifestyle and eating patterns can prevent or delay the progression of hearing loss.
Types of Diets Beneficial for Hearing Health
The study identified three diets that participants were closely adhering to. We often think about diets as temporary, restrictive, and something we simply do not want to do but they can also be broad approaches to eating. These diets are ways of eating that are not tightly defined but more so general ways of eating and living that are mindful and intentional.
- AMED (Alternate Mediterranean): this approach to eating is named after the foods and ingredients common in cultures around the Mediterranean Sea. It emphasizes vegetables, fruit, fish, and whole grains. Moderate consumption of dairy is recommended. Additionally, refined ingredients and foods (sugar, oils, grains) as well as processed foods are to be avoided entirely.
- DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension): this diet focuses on foods that are high in nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium; and low in sodium. This specifically reduces and maintains healthy blood pressure. This includes high intake of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and moderate amounts of whole grains, poultry, and fish.
- AHEI-2010 (Alternate Healthy Index-2010): this approach is a broad spectrum of foods that are rich in specific ingredients known to prevent or reduce the risk of chronic diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension). This includes:
- Magnesium – broccoli, potatoes, leafy greens (spinach, kale), legumes, asparagus, avocado
- Potassium – bananas, organs, mushrooms, cucumbers, spinach, sweet potatoes
- Folic Acid – citrus fruits, beans, leafy greens, lentils, whole grain breads, eggs
- Omega 3 – fish and seafood, nuts and seeds (flaxseed, chia, walnuts), tofu, brussels sprouts
These diets, or approaches to eating, all emphasize consuming more plant-based foods, a reduced intake of meat and dairy, and no intake of processed foods. The highlighted foods and nutrients previously mentioned contribute to a strong immune and auditory system. They contribute to protecting the hair cells in the inner ear, fluids, blood flow etc. that are critical components of hearing effectively. In addition to the numerous benefits of healthy eating, it also supports our hearing health and reduces the risk of impairment.