Audiologist examining patients ear

How a Heart-Healthy Diet Supports Better Hearing

In Hearing Health by Dr. Jason Leyendecker

Dr. Jason Leyendecker
Latest posts by Dr. Jason Leyendecker (see all)

Now that the winter ice is thawing and spring is right around the corner many of us are looking to get out more and stay active. Along with regular exercise, many people are looking to shed pounds and get more fit. We support and celebrate people of all body types and sizes, but there is a serious epidemic in the United States. Currently around 70% of people in the US are considered overweight or obese.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adults and determines if you are a healthy weight. Surely there are cultural values based on this form of measurement, causing people to feel shame when they don’t adhere to certain body shapes, however, excess weight, especially obesity, diminishes almost every aspect of health, from respiratory function to memory and mood. In addition obesity increases the risk of many deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Choosing a diet which lowers your weight is important for every aspect of your health including your hearing.

Understanding How We Hear

How does diet affect hearing? Well to better understand it’s important to understand how our hearing works. While we collect sound with our ears, hearing happens in the brain. Our ears send sound past the eardrum and the ossicles which amplifies the vibrations until they reach the snail shaped organ called the cochlea. The cochlea is filled with fluid and houses tiny cells called stereocilia. Stereocilia are the sole transport of sound to the brain, and they are very fragile. Many things can damage them causing permanent hearing loss including exposure to loud noise, impact to the head and chronic ear infections. In addition, heart issues, hypertension or diabetes can weaken the cells of the inner ear, causing them to be more susceptible to damage or cell death. 

What is a Hearing Healthy Diet?

What we eat supports our heart which in turn ensures we get a more regular supply of blood from the heart to the cells of the ears. Until recently, many hearing professionals believed that hearing loss was a common and inevitable part of growing older. Now we understand in more depth how our total health is connected including our hearing. When we eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins while avoiding processed sugars, added fats and salts, we not only can keep a safer BMI, but can also support heart function. A healthy heart supports every cell and function of our body, including healthy hearing.

A Studies in Hearing and Diet

The connection between what we eat and our hearing health is beginning to collect more and more data supporting the claim. In one important study from the Harvard Medical School, led by Dr. Sharon Curhan, her team tracked over 80,000 women for 26 years. The findings showed that those with healthier diets were 47 percent less likely than those with poor diets to experience moderate to extreme hearing loss.

In another study from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2019, researchers found that people who followed balanced diets like the DASH diet or the Alternative Mediterranean diet were much less likely to develop hearing loss. In fact, after three years, the women who followed these diets had a 30% lower chance of developing a hearing loss in the mid-frequency range as well as a 25% lower risk of higher frequency hearing loss.

Understanding a heart healthy diet

So, what should we be eating for optimal health anyway? It can be confusing when exploring the shelves of the grocery store. To give you a better idea of what to eat, a few diets have strong guidelines as well as delicious recipes so it doesn’t have to feel like a chore to eat healthy.

The alternative Mediterranean diet (AMED) prioritizes local fare which people would eat surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This includes lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes as well as plenty of olive oil and fish!

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a diet designed to lower hypertension again by eating lots of fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins and whole grains. In addition, the DASH diet urges people to avoid processed foods rich in sugars, added fats and salt.

Addressing Hearing Loss

It’s time to get healthy and along with regular exercise and a balanced diet, it means addressing your hearing health. Unaddressed it can progress into lack of mobility, chronic depression, cognitive decline and more. Take agency over your health by scheduling a hearing exam today!