We’re always looking for ways to be healthier, and the good news is that many of the same dietary recommendations that benefit overall health are also beneficial for hearing health! A 2019 study by Brigham & Women’s Hospital found that those who closely followed an anti-inflammatory diet—like the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED) or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)—were significantly less likely to see an onset of age-related hearing loss over a four-year period.
Both of these diets are good for blood circulation, and high in vitamin-packed vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids. It is likely that both of these aspects play a role in their benefits for hearing health. Whenever possible, it is preferable to obtain the vitamins we need from food, though supplements may be recommended for some people. It’s a good idea to consult your doctor before taking supplements.
Let’s take a look at some of the nutrients that are good for hearing health, and some of the foods you can eat to get more of them!
Folate (Vitamin B-9)
Several studies published between 1999 and 2004 found that those with age-related hearing loss had significantly lower levels of serum folate than those with normal hearing. While correlation does not necessarily mean causation, the link is well-established at this point between folate deficiency and hearing loss.
To make sure you’re getting enough folate in your diet, eat plenty of asparagus, spinach, broccoli, nuts, beans, eggs and liver.
Some of the same studies that looked at folate levels in those with hearing loss also noted lower levels of B-12 in the same study participants. It is likely that deficiencies in both folate and B-12 contribute to elevated homocysteine levels in the body. Homocysteine is an amino acid that can be converted into more useful amino acids by an interaction with folate and B-12, but when these vitamins are deficient homocysteine can become overabundant. When there is too much homocysteine in our blood, it can constrict blood flow to the cochlea, causing hearing loss.
To add more B-12 into your diet, eat meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy. Vegetarians and vegans should take B-12 supplements to ensure they’re getting enough.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The importance of omega-3’s has been public knowledge since the 1990s. It’s as if we are always looking for new sources of omega-3’s to promote our best health and well-being. In fact, the importance of omega-3’s has to do with the balance our bodies strike between omega-3’s and omega-6’s, and we can do just as well to decrease our intake of omega-6’s as to increase our intake of omega-3’s. This could be critical to your hearing health, as studies have found that omega-3’s are a major protector of our hearing ability. A 2010 study found that those who ate two servings of cold-water fish (high in omega-3’s) per week had a 42% lower risk of hearing loss than those who ate less than one serving per week.
The average American diet is high in omega-6’s, which is why we are always looking for more omega-3’s. You’ll find omega-6’s almost everywhere you look in the American diet, like potato chips, tortilla chips, granola bars, fast food, tofu, walnuts, sunflower seeds, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, desserts, peanut butter, chicken, cured meats, and cream soups. Try to avoid these foods if you want to improve your balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
To add more omega-3’s into your diet, look to olive oil, free-range eggs, flaxseed, grass-fed beef & lamb, and cold-water fish like salmon or sardines.
Vitamins A & E
Both vitamins A & E function as antioxidants in the body. In a study from 2011, researchers attempted to discover which antioxidants were most effective at preserving hearing health. Of all the antioxidants they looked at over five years, vitamins A & E were the two most significant in terms of protecting hearing ability. Those who ate a diet higher in vitamin A were 47% less likely to have hearing loss, while those who took in more vitamin E were at a 14% lower risk.
To get more vitamin A in your diet, eat more broccoli, spinach, kale, carrots, sweet potato, eggs, grass-fed butter, and beef liver. For more vitamin E, try some almonds, avocado, sunflower seeds, butternut squash and olive oil.
We hope you enjoy the process of finding healthy ways to boost your hearing ability! Recipe books that feature foods from these lists can be a great way to get started. Remember that you don’t need to make a sudden dietary switch, all at once—start by adding in the “good” foods, and soon you’ll be eating healthier without feeling like you’ve made a huge change in your cooking habits!
If you do have hearing loss and are not currently fitted with hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can help you stay happier, healthier, and more independent!