By Helen Bond, State-Registered Dietitian
Itâ€™s well known that our diet and lifestyle habits have a big impact on our general health, but many people forget that these factors are also crucial to maintaining healthy hearing. Our hearing can deteriorate very gradually, especially as you grow older, so small things can make a big difference in helping to prevent a hearing loss developing.
Thankfully, taking steps to care for your hearing is easier than you might think, and itâ€™s never too late to start. Here are a few important principles to follow.
- Watch your weight
Studies have found that people with a higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waistline measurements are more likely to have hearing problems than those who are slim. To reach and maintain a healthy weight, forget faddy diets, and instead try to lose weight slowly, through a varied and balanced diet with appropriately sized portions.
- Get active
Regular exercise will help lower your risk of hearing loss. But becoming more active doesnâ€™t necessarily mean hitting the gym or taking up a new sport. Experts advise at least two and a half hours each week of moderately intense exercise, which can include walking, swimming, cycling, aerobics or dancing.
- Reduce your risk of diabetes
Hearing loss is twice as common in adults with diabetes. Experts believe that uncontrolled diabetes damages the tiny nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. Type 2 diabetes is almost entirely in your own hands, so reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight and exercising frequently.
- Kick the habit
A new study has shown that smokers have a 15% higher risk of hearing loss than non-smokers. This means itâ€™s important to quit or reduce your smoking, and avoid passive exposure to tobacco smoke.
- Switch the fats
Switching from saturates to monounsaturates and polyunsaturates will help keep your arteries healthy, which could help improve blood flow to your ears and cut your risk of hearing loss. Saturated fats are found in fatty meat, full-fat dairy products, cakes and biscuits. Youâ€™ll find monounsaturates in olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts, while polyunsaturates can be found in oil-rich fish and pure vegetable oil.
- Follow a low GI diet
Research has shown that diets high in sugar and high GI carbohydrates could detrimentally impact hearing in the long term. So cut down on added sugars, and replace refined carbs, such as white bread, with wholegrain varieties that contain more fibre and release energy more slowly.
- Include oil-rich foods
As well as benefiting your heart and eyes, omega 3 fats can help prevent hearing loss, and is an important part of a nutritious diet. Try to have two portions of fish a week, one of them oil-rich, such as mackerel, herring, sardines or salmon. Or, other less potent forms of omega 3 can be found in linseeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds.
- Get enough B vitamins
A lack of some B vitamins, including folate and vitamin B12, have been linked with high-frequency hearing loss. Vitamin B12 is found in fish, dairy products, eggs, meats and fortified cereals. Folate (or folic acid in its synthetic form) is in dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. sprouts and spinach), green beans, peas, oranges, fortified breakfast cereals and bread, yeast extract, nuts and pulses.
- Pack in the antioxidants
Antioxidant vitamins and minerals help protect healthy ear cells from damage caused by â€˜free radicalsâ€™. Antioxidants include vitamin C (in citrus fruits, blackcurrants, berries and green leafy vegetables), vitamin E (vegetable oils, avocado, nuts and seeds), zinc (meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, nuts and seeds), selenium (brazil nuts, fish, shellfish, meat and eggs) and copper (nuts and shellfish).
See the bigger picture
The more we learn about hearing loss, the more we discover that it frequently coexists with other health conditions, so itâ€™s definitely time to start thinking about nourishing our ears as well as the rest of our bodies.
At The Hearing Care Partnership, weâ€™re dedicated to helping you take the best possible care of your hearing. We offer a wide range of expert services, from free hearing assessments and tinnitus consultations to the latest hearing aid technology. Whatever you need, please contact us today to make an appointment with your local hearing care expert.
About the author
Helen Bond is a freelance State-Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. She has 20 yearsâ€™ experience working in the NHS, in PR, within the media and across the food and pharmaceutical industries.