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Healthy Diets Support Healthy Hearing

By Kevin T Barlow, AuD

Healthy Diets Support Healthy HearingTreatment for hearing loss comes in many forms, including the well-known use of hearing aids. Now a wealth of information from recent studies has suggested that adding specific vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to patients’ diets may head off the need for such devices later in life. Folic acid, a water-soluble B vitamin that aids in DNA synthesis and formation of healthy red blood cells, is one such vitamin that may also play an important role in preserving hearing health later in life.

According to a 2007 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, folic acid supplementation may slow age-related hearing loss in older adults. Scientists from Wageningen University conducted a double-blind study focused on participants with either healthy hearing or mild hearing loss, solely related to age. Over the course of the three-year study, half of the participants took a folic acid supplement of 800 micrograms per day, while the other half received a placebo. At the end of the three-year trial, the participants who had received folic acid had less low-frequency hearing loss than those who had received the placebo, suggesting that folic acid may play a role in slowing the progression of hearing loss.

This hypothesis is supported by additional studies, including research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study was conducted on 55 healthy females between the ages of 60 and 71. The results found that women with sensorineural hearing loss caused by natural aging had significantly lower levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid than women with normal hearing, indicating that along with folic acid, vitamin B12 may play an important role in auditory health.

Folic acid and vitamin B12 aren’t the only nutrients that have been found to help thwart hearing loss. While using protective devices such as earplugs is the only proven method of preventing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), studies have shown that taking a mixture of vitamins C, E, A, and magnesium can reduce the damage caused by excessive noise. According to a study published in 2007 by Free Radical Biology & Medicine, taking
the vitamin mixture both prior to and after exposure to high levels of noise may significantly minimize the effects.

It is believed that the mixture’s success is derived from the fact that the vitamins are antioxidants with the ability to fight free radicals. Free radicals (destructive molecules that begin to form in the ear before and after exposure to excessive noise) are thought to destroy the inner-ear hairs or sensory cells, damaging the inner ear and, thus, hearing.

With no single known cause for the pervasiveness of hearing loss in older adults, and no known cure, hearing loss prevention is crucial. Many of these vitamins and minerals are found in the complementary foods and can easily be worked into a balanced diet supported by daily supplements. By integrating healthy food choices and well-balanced meal planning into daily life, hearing health will be supported and protected while overall health is improved.

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