Hearing loss affects a huge number of Americans, easily ranking among the top public health concerns in the country. Most hearing loss is irreversible, though some is preventable. Noise-induced hearing loss, for instance, can be mitigated by using healthy hearing strategies, such as steering clear of dangerously noisy situations, and wearing ear protection.
The leading cause of hearing loss aging has always appeared to be unavoidable and, part of the natural aging process. However, a new study suggests that healthy eating might just interrupt this “natural” progression.
Hearing Loss in the United States
More than one third of all adults over the age of 65 experience hearing loss. Advance a decade, and that number jumps to half of all folks over 75 reporting a degree of hearing impairment. This can have all sorts of physiological, mental, and emotional effects on a person’s quality of life. Connection, and communication are, fundamental parts of the human condition. When daily interactions with the world and loved ones become difficult, our relationships undoubtedly suffer.
People with undiagnosed hearing loss are more likely to suffer from depression. When challenges arise in communicating, people also tend to increasingly adopt isolating behaviors. These isolating behaviors can come about in unconscious ways, such as turning down invitations simply because the thought of challenging communication is exhausting. Unchecked, these behaviors can lead to serious mental and emotional fatigue, often resulting in depression and low feelings of self-worth.
Change your diet, change your odds
While hearing loss has long been considered an unavoidable part of aging, researchers are now reporting that engaging in a healthy diet might have an added benefit of reducing the risk of hearing loss. According to lead author, Dr. Sharon Curhan of the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, “Hearing loss is thought to be an unavoidable companion to aging, but findings from our research have highlighted a number of dietary factors that can be modified and may reduce the risk of hearing loss.”
This particular study followed more than 80,000 women for 26 years, finding that those engaged in diets that scored highest for health and quality were 47% less likely to later report moderate or severe hearing loss. This is in comparison to women engaging in unhealthy eating who had the lowest dietary scores.
The reported diets were scored against how closely they matched three diets known for their health benefits: The Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED), the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI). Importantly, all three diets share these common characteristics: high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes and low in processed meats, sugar and salt.
Beyond this strong correlation, it is even more remarkable to note that when the researchers looked at a smaller cohort of just over 33,000 women, all of whom had medical conditions that could cause hearing loss, the correlation between healthy diet and lower risk of hearing loss actually increased. In this scenario, the AMED and DASH diets lowered the risk 47% and 46% respectively. Those with a high AHEI score also significantly lowered their risk with a 29% decrease.
Further advantages of a healthy diet
The impacts of a healthy diet extend far beyond weight management, which is the most often marketed benefit of healthful eating. One theory on the results of this study is that the positive effects a healthy diet has on blood flow are what decrease the hearing loss risk. After all, if blood flow to the ear remains strong, the mechanisms of the ear are able to function longer and better. Further, a healthy diet may aid in overall blood vessel health, inflammation reduction, and increased nutrients that benefit the auditory nerve.
If you feel that you already have some degree of hearing loss, schedule an appointment for a hearing test with us at Atlanta Hearing Doctor. If a hearing loss is detected, we can recommend the best next steps towards better hearing health. Beyond preventing hearing loss, intervention and treatment are the most reliable ways to improve quality of life and reduce the negative effects of hearing loss.