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Hearing loss impacts a staggering number of older Americans, making it one of the leading chronic health conditions in the country. Age continues to be the greatest predictor of hearing loss, because time itself is often the cause for acquired hearing loss. However, there is a growing consensus that addressing some of our lifestyle habits and choices lowers the risk of developing hearing loss. By following a heart-healthy diet, many people can reduce the impact of losing access to sound frequencies as they age, or even avoid hearing loss altogether.
Which diets protect our hearing
The scientists that study the link between diet and hearing have found three known diets in particular show a decrease in hearing loss. The Alternate Mediterranean Diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Alternate Healthy Index. Specifically, a 2019 study from Brigham Women and Children’s Hospital found that women whose diets were close to those listed above experienced up to a 30 percent drop in hearing loss compared to their peers.
What these diets all share in common is their focus on fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. They limit or sometimes omit red meats and processed food. They are known to be beneficial for heart health and are often prescribed as such by physicians.
Why a healthy heart helps healthy hearing
An emphasis on fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains will ensure that your body is getting what it needs to function. Truly, each of the diets listed above will lead to a healthier function of the entire system that is your body. But heart health has an important connection to hearing health because the delicate system of the inner ear relies on excellent circulation in order to stay in good health. The important cells and tissues of our inner ear are also more susceptible to fluctuations in blood pressure, oxygen levels and inflammation.
How to choose a food plan that works for you
Back in 2008, best-selling author and food expert Michael Pollan told us to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” And if you took his advice more than a decade ago, you’d have ten years of actively lowering your risk of healthy hearing behind you.
And you might not need to find a specific ‘diet’ in order to shift your approach to eating. Each study on the effects of what we eat on hearing health is an endorsement for considering nutrition when you make your grocery shopping list. Leafy vegetables tend to be high in minerals that our bodies need to perform our most optimal cellular function. That goes for eating fruits like oranges and berries, which contain essential vitamins and antioxidants that are especially good for maintaining a healthy body and circulatory system.
Items to add to your grocery list
In addition to eating a variety of leafy green vegetables and colorful fruits, specific nutrients have been shown to boost hearing health:
We need potassium to help us balance the fluids in our bodies and cells. This is particularly true for the inner ear, which relies upon potassium to convert noise into electrical signals of sound information.
Add spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, oranges and yogurt to the list.
Folate/Folic Acid (Vitamin B)
In the ear, folic acid produces nice, new blood cells that keep tissues healthy and it gets rid of inflammatory compounds so that circulation flows easily.
Add spinach, broccoli, lentils and beans to your list.
Our ears contain the largest concentration of zinc found anywhere in our bodies! It has also been shown to improve tinnitus symptoms.
Add chickpeas, lentils, beans, nuts, eggs and dairy to your list.
One reason that magnesium is so important to our ears is that it can minimize the damage from exposure to excessive noise, reducing the free radicals produced when we listen to extreme volumes.
Add dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains to the list (as well as many fruits and vegetables)
These fatty acids enhance circulation within the inner ear. They’re also “brain food,” which helps the (very important) parts of hearing that take place in your brain’s processing centers.
Add salmon, tuna, sardines, flax seeds or flaxseed oil to the list.