Can a healthy diet prevent or slow age-related hearing loss? Though most studies on the subject have been observational and have sometimes produced conflicting results, research overall suggests that balanced nutrition throughout life may offer benefits for hearing. (There’s no evidence, however, that any dietary supplements improve hearing or prevent hearing loss.) Here’s a sampling of recent studies.
- Sugar and other carbs. Diets high in sugar and refined grains were associated with a higher prevalence of hearing loss in the Blue Mountains Hearing Study, as reported in the Journal of Nutrition in 2010. The researchers theorized that such diets could impair auditory function through their adverse effects on vascular health. In contrast, a higher intake of cereal fiber was associated with lower risk of hearing loss.
- Fish. Women who ate fish at least twice a week were less likely to report hearing loss than those who rarely ate it, in a 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which followed 65,000 female nurses for almost two decades. And the higher the intake of omega-3 fats from seafood, the lower the risk. Similar results were reported in a 2010 study in the same journal, which followed 3,000 people over age 50 for five years. These fats may help preserve blood flow in the cochlea (the auditory area of the inner ear), among other benefits, the researchers hypothesized, similar to how they may help cardiovascular function.
- Folate. This B vitamin has been linked to reduced risk of hearing loss in several studies, including one in 2010 inOtolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. Found in many plant foods, folate may improve endothelial function, which could boost cochlear blood flow.
- Antioxidants. Though antioxidants are thought to protect against oxidative damage and improve vascular and membrane function in the cochlea, studies have had mixed results. A 2015 study of female nurses, for example, found a link between higher intakes of dietary beta carotene and lower risk of hearing loss, but a 2010 study of male health professionals did not.
- Overall healthy diet. Examining diet as a whole, a 2013 study in the International Journal of Audiology of 21,000 people found that those who scored higher on the Healthy Eating Index had better hearing. Higher scores indicate diets that come closer to meeting daily recommendations for fruit, vegetables, grains, meat, and dairy, as well as fat, cholesterol, and sodium. “If healthier eating habits do confer benefit, it is reasonable to believe the relative benefit may accumulate over the course of the lifespan,” the authors concluded.
What about exercise and maintaining a healthy weight? Thumbs up to both. In a large 2013 study in the American Journal of Medicine, obese women were more likely to develop hearing loss over 20 years than normal-weight women. And physical activity—including walking as little as two hours a week—was associated with a lower risk.