Diet and hearing loss: How food and drink can affect your hearing
A nutritious diet is one of the most crucial aspects of living a healthier life, both physically and mentally. We all know that a healthy, balanced diet can help in reducing the risks of certain health conditions, but did you know that some food and drink can also affect your hearing?
When we think about maintaining healthy hearing, we often focus on factors such as preventing loud noise exposure and taking care of our ears. Whilst these are both incredibly important, the dietary choices we make can also play a significant role in either promoting or undermining our hearing abilities.
Studies suggest that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of hearing loss by up to 30%. Hearing loss is an incredibly debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide and has a huge impact on their quality of life. With no cure for the condition, it makes sense to put into place practices that can help you prevent it. Starting with our dietary choices.
From essential nutrients that support auditory health to harmful substances that can impair it, this blog will explore the fascinating connection between food, drink and hearing.
Nutrients for good hearing health
Incorporating a well-balanced and healthy diet that provides you with all of the required vitamins and nutrients helps to fuel your body and provide it with the energy it needs to perform essential functions, such as hearing well.
Maintaining good hearing requires a delicate balance of various nutrients and a deficiency in any of them may potentially harm our auditory system. Some of the key nutrients that support healthy ears include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These healthy fats enhance blood flow and reduce inflammation which can in turn benefit the delicate structures in the inner ear. These can be found in fish, walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Antioxidants: These protect the cells of the inner ear from damage, and can easily be consumed by eating foods such as berries, spinach and broccoli.
- Magnesium: A diet rich in magnesium helps to main proper blood flow to the inner ear, reducing the risk of hearing loss. Magnesium can be found in leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains.
- Zinc: This mineral supports the immune system and aids in the production of enzymes that are essential for hearing. Good sources of zinc include oysters, beef and legumes.
- Vitamin B12: Having a healthy amount of vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the formation of red blood cells and nerves, including those responsible for hearing.
The best foods for hearing
It’s often recommended that particular lifestyle diets such as the Mediterranean diet offer the perfect balance of nutrients and vitamins for healthy hearing. However, there are plenty of foods that can be incorporated more often into a regular, well-balanced diet to help boost your hearing health and prevent hearing loss. Some of these include:
Bananas are often depicted as a superfood and for very good reason! They’re an easily digestible fruit that’s packed with potassium and can help to maintain healthy hearing as you age. Consuming a banana every day can have a noticeable impact on your physical health.
Eating plenty of green vegetables is the key to a healthy, balanced diet and broccoli might just be the best of them all. Containing fibre and vitamin C, broccoli can help to prevent the risk of hearing-related diseases and improve your overall health.
Fish is full of essential minerals and vitamins such as omega-3, omega-6 and vitamin D. Incorporating fish such as salmon, tuna or cod a few times a week in replacement of lean meat can help to strengthen the bones inside your ear and prevent otosclerosis.
4. Whole grains
Switching out refined grains for whole grains that are rich in magnesium such as brown rice and bread can help to improve your hearing They help to maintain nerve function and protect the cells in the inner ear which is particularly important when the ears are exposed to loud noise, and the magnesium helps to improve blood flow to the ears.
5. Dark chocolate
Not only is dark chocolate a delicious sweet treat but it’s packed with vitamins and antioxidants that help to aid digestion and contribute to boosting your metabolism and immune system. With the ability to raise your levels of magnesium, dark chocolate can also encourage better circulation which can lead to improved hearing abilities.
Foods to limit for good hearing health
Whilst some foods nourish our hearing, there are many others that can have a detrimental effect on our auditory health if consumed excessively. An unbalanced diet that consists mostly of the foods listed below can contribute to the onset of hearing loss or tinnitus.
Foods high in salt
High-sodium food such as those often found in fast food restaurants and takeaways have long been associated with poor heart and cardiovascular health. Studies have also concluded that excessive sodium intake may lead to hearing impairment.
Eating too much of this salty food, or adding additional salt to your cooking may put you at greater risk of hearing loss and further health complications. It’s a good idea to reflect on your current diet and limit salt where possible, maybe saving these foods for a special occasion and swapping them for healthier alternatives regularly.
Foods high in sugar
Too many sweet treats may also stand you at greater risk of hearing loss, as excessive consumption of sugar can lead to high blood sugar levels and damage the blood vessels in the inner ear.
If you have a persistent sweet tooth, try to reach for healthier alternatives such as fruit, flavoured teas or dark chocolate to curb those cravings or find some new low-sugar snacks. If sugary drinks are your downfall, opt for sugar-free versions to get the same satisfaction.
High cholesterol foods
Cholesterol affects the red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen, which can cause irreversible damage to the ears as they may not be getting all of the nutrients they need to function adequately.
Foods such as red meat, full-fat dairy and eggs have a high cholesterol content. Rather than eliminating these foods from your diet, it’s a good idea to simply reduce your intake as they all have a place within a healthy and well-balanced diet.
If you’re a self-confessed coffee addict or often find yourself reaching for an energy drink to beat the afternoon slump, you could be putting yourself at risk of damaging your hearing. Excessive caffeine consumption can constrict blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the ears, potentially affecting hearing health.
Try to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume each day, opting for decaffeinated alternatives where possible.
Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to the shrinking of the auditory cortex (the part of the brain responsible for processing sounds) and also damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. This damage is irreversible and can lead to hearing loss over time, or exacerbate existing hearing loss.
Adopting a hearing-friendly diet
Whilst many cases of hearing loss are age-related or as a result of an existing health condition and therefore difficult to prevent, by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle you may have a good chance of reducing your risk of hearing loss at an earlier age.
Subtle tweaks to your existing diet can make a big difference, and it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Some of the top tips and key takeaways from this blog to help you do that include:
- Eat a diet that prioritises fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats.
- Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids by including fish, flaxseeds, or walnuts.
- Limit your intake of processed foods high in sodium, sugar, and trans fats.
- Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Consider taking dietary supplements, particularly if you have specific dietary restrictions or deficiencies and struggle to get in all of the vitamins and minerals you need.
If you have noticed a decline in your hearing ability or believe you may be experiencing hearing loss, we recommend that you book an appointment with an audiologist as soon as possible. Hearing loss that is left undiagnosed or untreated can worsen over time.