Yes, a heart-healthy diet helps you keep your hearing in better shape over time. This may not come as much of a surprise, since a healthy diet is good for just about everything when it comes to your physical, mental and emotional health. When we make sure to eat a diet full of important vitamins and minerals, we give our body what it needs to keep performing its best, and nowhere does that apply more immediately than in terms of our hearing health.
Good hearing depends on the proper functioning of the 16,000-ish stereocilia, inside the cochlea in the inner ear. These tiny, hair-like cells convert the mechanical energy of sound into the electrical impulses that our brain can understand. Because they’re so small, they’re among the first parts of the body to be adversely affected by poor blood flow—one of the consequences of poor cardiovascular health. Indeed, hearing loss that proceeds faster than normal can be the result of an underlying cardiovascular condition that has not yet been diagnosed.
How Do We Know That Diet Affects Hearing?
Research into the subject is relatively new, but the Nurses’ Health Study II, conducted in 2018, showed a strong correlation between a healthier diet and a lower incidence of hearing loss. Building on that study, another one published in 2019 suggested so strongly that a heart-healthy diet protects hearing ability, we can be almost sure that future studies will confirm, support, and expand these results.
The 2019 study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was conducted by researchers at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. The study followed 3,135 women over a four-year period, around the age when age-related hearing loss often becomes measurable (around age 55–60). The women’s hearing was measured at a number of clinics in different parts of the US.
Those who closely followed an anti-inflammatory diet were 25% less likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss, and 30% less likely to develop mid-frequency hearing loss. This is a considerable reduction in risk—one which many in the medical community may not have thought possible.
The Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss has noted that nearly every type of hearing loss has some genetic component to it, but that does not mean there is nothing we can do to prevent hearing loss. Protecting ourselves from loud noise, quitting smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet have all been indicated to lower the risk of hearing loss.
Which Diets Can Help Reduce the Risk of Hearing Loss?
There are three specific diets that have been named in the reduction of hearing loss risk.
- AMED (Alternate Mediterranean Diet) – This diet leans heavily on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and olive oil. While not every meal needs to involve a protein dish, it encourages more fish, and one serving of beef or lamb per week. It also allows for moderate alcohol drinking.
- DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) – Similar to AMED, this diet involves lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish. It also encourages low-fat dairy, lean meats, and emphasizes low sodium, sugar and fat.
- AHEI-2010 (Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010) – This diet also involves lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Like DASH, it limits sodium, sugar and animal fats.
There is a wide array of cookbooks available to help guide you down the path of any or all of these diets. It may be worth trying each of them out, one week at a time.
If you would like to switch to a more heart-healthy diet but are concerned about making a big change in your eating habits, a piece of advice that has helped many people is to “add in the good stuff.” That means, rather than trying to simply switch everything over in one fell swoop, start adding a healthy side dish to something you eat regularly, and over time integrate more and more healthy foods until you find yourself eating healthy all the time!
Vegans, Vegetarians, and Hearing Loss
One important thing to note is that the B-vitamins Folate and B-12 have both been shown to provide protection against hearing loss. These vitamins are largely present in animal proteins. It is fine to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, but those who do so should also find a good B-vitamin supplement!