GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (ABC 4)- Surprising as it may seem, neglecting what’s good for your heart could spell trouble for your hearing. “The association of age-related hearing loss with heart disease has been well-documented,” says endocrinologist Robert H. Eckel, M.D., professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Normal hearing relies on good blood circulation.
There’s no evidence that what you eat can reverse hearing loss, but a healthy diet may help delay or slow further progression of hearing decline. The connection between your heart and your hearing turns out to be a steady flow of oxygen-rich blood, Eckel says.
The sensitive hair cells in the inner ear convert sound waves into electrical impulses that the brain interprets as sound. Poor blood circulation or inadequate oxygen damages these sensitive cells, Eckel says, “so to reduce the risk of heart disease, it’s important to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lean poultry and fish. In addition, for the sake of your heart, if you’re a smoker, quit; get some exercise, and stick to an optimal sleep routine.”
1. Bell peppers
Rich in folate (vitamin B9), these crunchy beauties help make red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Researchers link low levels to the risk of age-related hearing loss.
Potassium-rich bananas help regulate levels of body fluids.
Melons contain the mineral potassium, which helps regulate fluid beneficial to the cochlea, the main organ of hearing.
Beta-carotene, the plant pigment that gives carrots their color, may help reduce the risk of hearing loss.
5. Citrus fruits
Oranges, grapefruit, lemons and other citrus fruits contain folate (a.k.a. vitamin B9) that helps make red blood cells. Low folate levels have been linked to the risk of age-related hearing loss.
6. Dark green leafy vegetables
Broccoli, kale, Swiss chard and spinach (of course) contain folate (vitamin B9), which contributes to the health of the inner ear.
Loaded with vitamin D, eggs are associated with lower odds of hearing problems.
8. Potatoes, sweet and white
Both are rich in zinc, which helps ward off infections that can affect the inner ear.
Well-supplied with the plant pigment beta-carotene, this colorful fruit may help reduce the risk of hearing loss.
Potassium-rich tomatoes — red, yellow and even green — help regulate fluid in the inner ear.
Two or more weekly servings of fish, such as tuna, salmon or herring, is related to a reduced risk of hearing loss. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Bonus: Omega-3s from food may help reduce your dementia risk.
Further evidence that diet is a factor in preserving hearing: Researchers in Spain found that eating fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, C and E was linked to a lower risk of developing hearing loss.
Hearing loss is often incorrectly considered to be an unavoidable companion to aging, says Sharon Curhan, director of CHEARS, the Conservation of Hearing Study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Her group’s research highlighted dietary and lifestyle factors that may reduce the risk of hearing loss. “We found that an overall healthier diet, including eating two or more servings of fish each week, was associated with a reduced risk of hearing loss,” Curhan says. Eating foods high in the carotenoids beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, found in richly colored fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe, bell peppers, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, “may also help reduce the risk.” Curhan notes that more is not always better: “We were surprised to find that taking very high doses of vitamin C supplements was associated with an increased risk of hearing loss.”
Hearing loss may occur when blood flow to the cochlea — the main organ of hearing in the inner ear — is compromised, and what you eat can affect the health of your blood vessels, as well as blood pressure, so Curhan says a healthier diet can improve hearing and heart health.
Aim to eat nutrient-dense food rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which help the cells in your body function as they should. Try to get those vitamins from foods, rather than pills. “The nutritional supplement market is inadequately regulated,” says Elliott Kozin, M.D., an otologist (ear, nose and throat physician) at Mass Eye and Ear, and taking supplements without checking with your doctor “may cause unwanted side effects.”
Four minerals to consider to improve hearing
Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to generate its own supply of hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. A Penn State study of adult men and women that was published in the journal found a link between anemia and hearing loss in adults.
FOODS RICH IN IRON
Although Popeye favored spinach as his superfood, these days the choice of foods goes well beyond his favorite green. According to the Cleveland Clinic, beef, chicken, eggs and turkey have iron. Salmon and tuna are iron-rich, as are figs, dates and raisins. Tofu, made from soybeans, is an excellent source. Peas and lentils make the grade, as do broccoli, collard greens and string beans. And you can get a good amount of iron from cooked white mushrooms.
To work properly, the body needs potassium. Potassium helps the body send nerve signals, as well as regulate muscle contractions and body fluids. Nerve endings in the snail-shaped cochlea in the inner ear pick up vibrations and send them to the brain, which interprets them and enables us to hear. Fluid helps the cochlea work well.
FOODS RICH IN POTASSIUM
Surprisingly, avocados have more potassium than bananas, which are generally considered the go-to food for this mineral. Potatoes, both white and sweet, are a good source; just leave the skin on and be sure to scrub well before cooking, frying or baking. Beans, lentils and soybeans provide a solid amount of this unsung nutritional hero. Tomatoes and tomato juice, carrot juice and orange juice also contain potassium.
Folate and folic acid are two forms of water-soluble vitamin B9. This B-complex vitamin helps make the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Folate is the naturally occurring form, and folic acid is synthetic. A study from Australia links low levels of B vitamins, notably B9, to the risk of age-related hearing loss. Researchers found that those with low levels were much more likely to suffer hearing loss.
FOODS RICH IN FOLATE
Luckily, you don’t have to look far to find foods naturally rich in folate; they’re widely available. Asparagus and beets are a good source. Dark-green leafy vegetables (think turnip greens, spinach and romaine lettuce) provide a folate-rich base for salads; sprinkle on some chopped peanuts and sunflower seeds for a bit of crunch and, if you like, top it with a chopped hard-cooked egg. Add a few slices of roasted chicken breast and you’ve just helped your hearing, as well as satisfied your taste buds. And for dessert? Peel an orange or a tangerine. Citrus fruits also contain folate. Folic acid is generally added to bread, flour, breakfast cereals and fortified foods.
Zinc is a powerful mineral intimately involved in metabolism, a chemical reaction in the body that changes food into energy for everything from thinking to digestion. By boosting your immune system, zinc helps to protect against germs that cause the common cold, which may lead to ear infections that affect hearing. Zinc is found in cells throughout the body, but the inner ear contains particularly high concentrations. Studies report a link between zinc deficiency and tinnitus, an annoyingly constant ringing, humming or buzzing in your ears that no one but you can hear.
FOODS RICH IN ZINC
You can find zinc in a variety of meats, especially red meat and dark-meat chicken; legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans; nuts, including cashews, almonds and peanuts; eggs and dairy products; and both sweet and white potatoes.
(Sponsored by McDonald Audiology & Hearing Health Care)