Most of us realise that eating a balanced diet can help keep our minds and bodies healthy in lots of different ways. But who knew it could keep our hearing healthy too?
Writing in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the research team – from Brigham and Women’s Hospital – found women who ate a healthy diet had a substantially lower risk of experiencing problems with their hearing than those eating less healthily. A healthy diet in this case was defined as one that closely resembles the DASH diet (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – a diet devised by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the US to help manage blood pressure) and the Mediterranean diet, both of which include heaps of fruit and vegetables.
According to lead researcher Sharon Curhan, many people believe hearing loss is an inevitable part of ageing. “However, our research focuses on identifying potentially modifiable risk factors — that is, things that we can change in our diet and lifestyle to prevent hearing loss or delay its progression,” she explains. “The benefits of adherence to healthful dietary patterns have been associated with numerous positive health outcomes and eating a healthy diet may also help reduce the risk of hearing loss.”
The research team came to its conclusion after analysing data from the Nurses’ Health Study II Conservation of Hearing Study (CHEARS). This study has collected dietary information from its participants every four years from 1991. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers also sent audiologists to study participants in 19 different test sites across the US to find out how the participants’ hearing changed during the course of three years.
By combining the all of this information, they found those whose diets resembled the DASH and Mediterranean diets most closely had a 30 per cent lower chance of experiencing a decline in their mid-frequency hearing. They also had a 25 per cent lower chance of a decline in their higher frequency hearing.
What also surprised the researchers was that so many women experienced a decline in their hearing in just three years. Most participants were in their 50s and early 60s when the study was being carried out – which, according to the researchers, is younger than the age most people start thinking about getting their hearing checked. During the study period, 19 per cent of the women lost some hearing in the low frequencies, 38 per cent in the mid-frequencies and almost half had hearing loss in the higher frequencies.
Eating lots of fruit and veg isn’t the only way to protect your hearing. Not exposing yourself to high levels of noise is also important (experts believe continued exposure to noise at or above 85dB can cause hearing problems over time – that’s about the level of a lawn mower or loud traffic).
Try to keep the volume down if you like to listen to music wearing headphones – if other people can hear sounds coming from your headphones, the volume is definitely too high.
Give your ears a break whenever possible when you’re in a noisy environment too, such as a nightclub or even a sports event such as motor racing (wearing earplugs in these situations can really help).
And if you work in a noisy environment – such as the music industry, construction or manufacturing – you should already be using hearing protection such as ear muffs of ear plugs (if not, speak to your employer).
Think your hearing is fine? Try taking the Action on Hearing Loss test.