Hearing loss is a growing public health epidemic. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Amounting to over 40 million people in the U.S. alone, hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition that older adults experience. Hearing loss results in a reduced ability to hear and process information which impacts all aspects of life. Impaired hearing is also a permanent condition that is expected to increase so there is significant emphasis on identifying ways to delay, reduce, or prevent its development.
Recent research suggests that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of hearing loss. The wide-ranging benefits of healthy eating are commonly known: more energy, disease prevention, enhanced cognitive capacity, stronger immune system etc. Previous research has identified specific nutrients that are beneficial for healthy hearing. This research has now been expanded to highlight more general dietary patterns that can lower the risk of hearing loss.
Research Linking Healthy Diet & Reduced Risk of Hearing Loss
In a major 2019 study, researchers found that healthy diets were connected to lowered risk of hearing loss. Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts) sought out to investigate the relationship between hearing loss and dietary patterns. The details of this study include:
- Study: researchers analyzed data from dietary intake information collected for over 20 years as well as results from hearing tests conducted over the course of 3 years. The study included 3,135 participants throughout the U.S.
- Findings: include 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 reveal the strong association between diet and hearing health. The way we hear relies on the health of numerous parts of the auditory system. This includes healthy blood flow, blood vessels, cells, and bones which all contribute to absorbing and processing sound. Healthy eating not only supports a robust immune system and blood circulation, but it also reduces the risk of developing serious medical conditions. Existing health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension actually increases the risk of developing hearing loss.
Diets that Promote Hearing Health
We often think of diets as a strict set of rules or regimen that is about what not to eat. However, it is imperative to note that the diets in the 2019 study more so refer to approaches to eating that are more general (and less prescriptive). Researchers in the study identified the healthy diets that participants were following and found that they could be grouped into three commonly known and recognized dietary patterns:
- AMED (Alternate Mediterranean): modeled after the ways of eating in cultures and countries around the Mediterranean Sea. AMED focuses on vegetables, fruit, fish, and whole grains. Moderate consumption of dairy is recommended and refined ingredients and foods (sugar, oils, grains) as well as processed foods should be eliminated.
- DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension): focuses on foods that reduce hypertension and support healthy blood pressure. This includes foods that contain higher amounts of specific nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium; and are low in sodium. DASH emphasizes high intake of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and moderate amounts of whole grains, poultry, and fish.
- AHEI-2010 (Alternate Healthy Index-2010): is a general diet that focuses on foods that contain ingredients known to reduce the risk of various diseases like heart disease and hypertension. It includes nutrients like magnesium, potassium, folic acid and omega 3. Foods high in these specific nutrients include: broccoli, potatoes, leafy greens, mushrooms, lentils, fish, nuts, seeds, and brussels sprouts.
These approaches to eating emphasize plant-based diets that are low (or eliminate) in meat, dairy, and processed foods. This provides rich foods that not only help sustain the body, but provide the energy and nutrients needed for robust health. Healthy eating has numerous benefits that enhance the quality and longevity of life. This includes reducing the risk of developing numerous medical conditions including hearing loss!