The Diet and Hearing Connection – How To Improve Hearing Through Lifestyle

You may have probably never thought that food can in any way influence your hearing. Well, the truth is that it does play a very integral role in proper hearing. Hearing and balance loss need not be a standard part of aging. Hearing can be improved with a healthy diet and a few lifestyle habit changes.

Today, over half of the adult population above 40 years reports the loss of hearing. [1] With men aged 20-69 almost twice as likely as women to have hearing deficits. [2] 

Based on standard hearing examinations, one in every eight people aged 12 years or older in the United States has hearing loss in both ears. [3] 

Unfortunately, these statistics show a major problem.

Hearing loss lowers a person’s quality of life. Hearing loss leads to difficulty in conversations and later to withdrawal from conversations all together, as well as avoidance of social settings.

An average human can hear frequencies between 80hz and  20,000hz. 

We talk in frequencies between 80 – 260 hz.

A male talks in frequencies between 80 – 180hz and a female talks between 165 – 260hz.

As we grow older we may lose the ability to hear higher frequency sound. 

Lets check your hearing now with this simple hearing test.

A sound will play with the corresponding frequency. Remember to write down when you start and stop hearing the frequency. 

A healthy 40- 50 year old adult should hear 14,000 hz minimum.

A healthy teen should hear 16,000-18,000 hz.

A healthy 50-70 year old should hear 12,000 hz

So What Can Be Done To Improve Your Hearing and Prevent Hearing Loss?

Lifestyle habits are recognized as determinants of all major health complications, including hearing loss.

The good news is that lifestyle habits (including dietary habits) are something that is modifiable, although not easily done.

There are several types of foods and specific nutrients and lifestyle habits you want to incorporate into your life regularly to have better hearing for a more extended period of your life.

Here is How to Improve Your Hearing Through Three Lifestyle Modifications

1. Diet:

The connection between diet and hearing has been proven from an early age. A study from 2018 has shown that malnourished children in Nepal developed hearing loss over time. [4] The research clearly shows that proper nutrition plays a vital role in the development of our hearing ability. However, this study is specific and involves malnutrition so it might not be relevant to people living in the western world.

However, a very recent and much bigger study that lasted for 22 years gave compelling results. It monitored over 80,000 women following various diets throughout the study. The results clearly show that women who were eating a healthier diet had a much lower risk of hearing loss than those who didn’t. [5]

Another research team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed questionnaire responses from about 71,000 women who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study II between 1991 and 2013. [6] The researchers found that women whose dietary patterns most resembled a whole food plant based or Mediterranean style diet had about a 30% lower risk of hearing loss than women whose diets least resembled them.

“Interestingly, we observed that those following an overall healthy diet had a lower risk of moderate or worse hearing loss,…Eating well contributes to overall good health, and it may also help reduce the risk of hearing loss,” says Sharon Curhan from the research team.

It’s essential to have a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals to improve and protect your hearing. [7]

Here are 7 nutrients that play a vital role in hearing health. 

  • 1. Beta carotene – Beta carotene which can convert into Vitamin A is very important for healthy vision and the immune system, but it also plays a vital role in proper hearing. Research shows that beta carotene is associated with lower risk of hearing loss. [8] Foods rich in beta carotene are carrots, kale, spinach, apricots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, squash.
  • 2. Vitamin C – Although Vitamin C is not directly connected with hearing, it is a potent antioxidant, and it has been shown to fight off infections, targeting the middle ear. Foods rich in Vitamin C are oranges, pineapple, mango, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
  • 3. Vitamin E – Vitamin E improves circulation in your entire body and is thus beneficial for the hair cells in your inner ear. The hair cells translate sounds into nerve impulses that fire along the auditory nerve to the auditory cortex in your brain. When circulation is reduced, hearing is impaired. Foods rich in Vitamin E are spinach, sweet potato, avocado, almonds, and sunflower seeds
  • 4. Magnesium – An older study published in 2007 has shown that a combination of these Vitamins A, C, E, and the mineral magnesium, can reduce noise trauma. [8] Foods that provide lots of magnesium are avocado, nuts, seeds, tofu, dark chocolate, and whole grains.
  • 5. Folic acid – Folic acid is also associated with lower risk of hearing loss, especially in men over 60 years of age. Foods rich in folic acid include leafy green vegetables, for example, spinach, citrus fruits, beans, and whole grains.
  • 6. Zinc – In addition to this, zinc is quite beneficial in fighting tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears). [9] You can find enough zinc in almonds, cashews, as well as in dark chocolate.
  • 7. Potassium – It is also crucial to consume foods with potassium as this nutrient plays a significant role in the health of the inner ear and how sounds are converted to signals later to be interpreted by the brain. You can consume potassium from bananas, potatoes, black beans, and more.

2. Exercise:

Physical activity is extremely important for hearing health as it improves cognitive ability through BDNF and this improves how the brain processes sound. It also works the other way around;  Hearing loss may also influence risk for cognitive decline.

3. Reduction of Toxins.

Regular alcohol consumption, certain medications, and smoking are all connected with hearing decline. 

  • Cigarettes – Studies have shown that exposure to cigarette smoke, whether directly, or through passive smoking or even in utero, will have a major impact on a person’s hearing health. Smokers are nearly 70% more likely than non-smokers to suffer from hearing loss. Both nicotine and carbon monoxide lower oxygen levels in the blood and affect blood vessels all over your body, including those in your inner ear responsible for maintaining ear hair cell health. Also, rates of tinnitus are higher in smokers than non-smokers.
  • Alcohol – It is well known that binge drinking causes damage and shrinking of the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound information. But we now also know that the effect of alcohol consumption on your brain is cumulative. Therefore, even moderate drinkers who regularly drink for many years will suffer hearing loss. Tinnitus is also common among drinkers and may or may not resolve itself after a few hours, depending on the amount of alcohol consumption. Tinnitus can also become permanent and greatly lower a person’s quality of life. –
  • Some Medications – Drugs including the antibiotic gentamicin, Viagra, Aspirin, certain pain relievers, antimalarial drugs, diuretics, and certain chemotherapy drugs, can cause damage to the inner ear.

The Bottom Line

All in all, it’s clear that a whole food diet rich in nutrients and other lifestyle modifications including regular exercise, smoking cessation and reduction of alcohol consumption all play a significant role in the health of your hearing.

So if you desire to sustain a good quality of life over time and well into old age, you definitely want to follow these instructions and aim to consume the foods recommended above as well as follow overall healthy lifestyle habits.

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References:

  • [1] Goman, A. M., & Lin, F. R. (2016). Prevalence of hearing loss by severity in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 106, 1820–1822
  • [2] Hoffman HJ, Dobie RA, Losonczy KG, Themann CL, Flamme GA. Declining Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Adults Aged 20 to 69 Years. JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. December 2016 online
  • [3] Shargorodsky J, Curhan SG, Eavey R, and Curhan GC. A prospective study of vitamin intake and the risk of hearing loss in me. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010 Feb; 142(2): 231–236. doi: 10.1016/j.otohns.2009.10.049
  • [4] usan D Emmett, Jane Schmitz, Sureswor L Karna, Subarna K Khatry, Lee Wu, Steven C LeClerq, Joseph Pillion, Keith P West Jr. Early childhood undernutrition increases the risk of hearing-loss in young adulthood in rural Nepal. S The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 107, Issue 2, February 2018, Pages 268-277, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqx022
  • [5] Lin FR, Niparko JK, Ferrucci L.  Hearing loss prevalence in the United States.[Letter] Arch Intern Med. 2011 Nov 14; 171(20): 1851-1852.
  • [6] Adherence to Healthful Dietary Patterns Is Associated with Lower Risk of Hearing Loss in Women. Sharon G Curhan, Molin Wang, Roland D Eavey, Meir J Stampfer, Gary C Curhan. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 148, Issue 6, June 2018, Pages 944–951, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy058
  • [7] Curhan SG, Stankovic KM, Eavey RD, Wang M, Stampfer MJ, Curhan GC. Carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate and risk of self-reported hearing loss in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Nov;102(5):1167-75. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.109314.
  • [8] Free radical scavengers vitamins A, C, and E plus magnesium reduce noise trauma. Colleen G. Le Prell, Larry F. Hughes, Josef M. Miller. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2007.02.008
  • [9] The role of zinc in the treatment of tinnitus. Arda HN, Tuncel U, Akdogan O, Ofluoglu LN. Otol Neurotol. 2003 Jan;24(1):86-9.