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Hearing loss affects most older adults, and many fear that there is nothing they can do to prevent its onset. On the contrary, a recent study finds that a surprising factor has a link with the prevalence of hearing loss: a healthy diet! Although the nature of the connection between a healthy diet and lower rates of hearing loss remains to be discovered, the study used 20 years of data gathered at 19 testing locations all over the United States. These results are yet another reason to pursue a healthy diet as a way to foster wellness in the aging years.
The research was conducted through Brigham and Women’s Hospital with the lead researcher Sharon Curhan, MD, who is a physician and epidemiologist in the Brigham’s Channing Division of Network Medicine. The study investigated two particular diets that have been linked to many other healthy outcomes: Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean Diet. Those whose eating habits more closely matched these two diets had overall lower rates of hearing loss at the time of testing. The research subjects tended to be women between their 50s and early 60s with an average age of 59. This test group was younger than the average person who sought out a hearing test, so the results may be even more striking in later years.
Even at this relatively young age, the results of hearing tests were remarkable. 19 percent had hearing loss in lower frequency ranges, 38 percent in the mid frequencies, and nearly half in the higher frequency range. Despite these results in the entire group, the relationship with a healthy diet had a statistically significant relationship with lower rates of hearing loss, controlling for other factors. The researchers used over 20 years of data on the dietary habits of these research participants, finding that those with healthier diets tended to have better hearing at the time of the assessment.
You might be asking, “What is a healthy diet?” This study defined healthy diets according to both the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet. These two approaches to healthy eating have a lot in common. They both emphasize plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They recommend limited amounts of red meat, sodium, and sugar. Where they are different has to do with fats and oils. The DASH Diet is targeted at people with a risk of heart disease, so the diet recommends limited intake of fats, particularly saturated fats. By limiting the amounts of oil, nutritionists predict lower cholesterol rates, including the dangerous LDLs.
However, the Mediterranean Diet emphasizes the use of olive oil and other fats in moderation. It includes ample amounts of fish, as well. The Mediterranean Diet even allows a glass of red wine with dinner! In both diets a variety of fresh foods is encouraged to get the right balance of vitamins and minerals, while also limiting junk foods and processed snacks. With such appetizing options for a healthy diet, the possible effects on hearing ability are icing on the cake.
What can you do if you already have hearing loss? Although the preventative measure of pursuing a healthy diet is a great idea, some people realize that their hearing has already suffered some loss. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with conversations, straining to hear a speech in a large room, or frustrated with the noise at a local restaurant, then you might be dealing with undiagnosed hearing loss.
Each of these warning signs is a good reason to schedule a hearing exam. The test itself is painless, quick, and easy, and the results can be life changing. Once your audiologist or hearing health professional has diagnosed your hearing ability, you will be prescribed a line of hearing aids that are suited to your individual needs and lifestyle.
Hearing aid technology is improving at a rapid rate, and you might be surprised by the new models that can fit invisibly into your ear canal or can sync with your media devices or smartphone. With such attractive options for treatment, the time is now to find out if you can benefit from hearing loss treatment.