Nutrients and Hearing - They're Related?!
We know of the importance of maintaining proper nutrition to help support healthy aging. We know of the relationship that nutrients have with key components of aging, like bone health, heart health, and eye health. But when we think of the potential benefits of nutrition, most people would not list “maintaining your hearing” as one of them. Maybe it’s time to change that.
Despite this lack of awareness, nutrients have a fairly well-established role in maintaining healthy hearing. For example, clinical trials have shown that supplementation with vitamin D and vitamin A reduce the risk of developing otitis media, an ear infection observed in children that can lead to hearing loss. To be fair, otitis media is a problem that largely affects children in the third world, however this connection is still interesting as a proof of principle. So what about average American adults?
To determine whether there is a relationship between nutrient intake and hearing loss in a more familiar setting, Curhan et al. looked to the Nurses’ Health Study II, a very large prospective cohort study with 65,521 women. The researchers found that higher intake of carotenoids, namely total carotenoids (a sum of α-carotene, β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein & zeaxanthin), and β-carotene and β-cryptoxanthin specifically were associated with a significantly lower risk of hearing loss. Furthermore, high folate intake was associated with a lower risk of hearing loss, yet interestingly mega-doses of vitamin C were associated with a higher risk of hearing loss.
We should remember of course that this is a prospective cohort study and the data can’t prove causality, but nevertheless this is interesting. According to the National Institutes of Health, 25% of seniors age 65-74 and 50% of seniors age 75 years an older have disabling hearing loss, meaning that dietary approaches to maintain normal hearing have the potential to impact a very large number of people. Hearing loss can significantly impact quality of life among the elderly, so further research on the role of nutrition and hearing is sorely needed.
Curhan SG, Stankovic KM, Eavey RD, et al. Carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate and risk of self-reported hearing loss in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; epub ahead of print.
Ciorba A, Bianchini C, Pelucchi S, Pastore A. The impact of hearing loss on the quality of life of elderly adults. Clin Interv Aging 2012; 7: 159-163.
Marchisio P, Consonni D, Baggi E, et al. Vitamin D supplementation reduces the risk of acute otitis media in otitis-prone children. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2013; 32(10): 1055-1060.
Schmitz J, West KP, Khatry SK, et al. Vitamin A supplementation in preschool children and risk of hearing loss as adolescents and young adults in rural Nepal: randomized trial cohort follow up study. BMJ 2012; 344: d7962 doi 10:1136/bmj.d7962.