by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, showed that low levels of folate (one of the B vitamins found in spinach, black-eyed peas, beans and other leafy greens) are associated with a higher risk of hearing loss in people over the age of 50. (1)
“Those with the lowest levels of folate were 39% more likely to suffer hearing loss. People with the most homocysteine—an amino acid, also linked to heart disease and dementia, that’s countered by B vitamins—were at 64% greater risk.” (2)
Bamini Gopinath, Ph.D., of the University of Sidney in Australia found that a folate deficiency causes homocysteine levels to increase, which in turn, could restrict blood flow to the cochlea, resulting in hearing loss.
In another study looking at the same participants, Gopinath “found that those who ate two or more servings of fish a week were less likely to develop age-related hearing loss compared to people who had less than a serving a week. Plus, among participants who already had some hearing loss, those who ate more fish saw its progression slow.” (1) Gopinath thinks that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish help to lower a person’s high blood pressure—which, in turn, could help to protect against hearing loss. (1)
This research makes sense IF your hearing loss is related to vascular issues. (To be sure, large numbers of people fit into this category.) At the same time, there are other reasons why you might lose hearing as you age. A prime example is hearing loss from side effects of all the ototoxic drugs many older people take. Another cause is from a lifetime of exposure to loud noise—and this noise exposure continues the longer you live.
Thus, to my way of thinking, there are three things you need to do in order to protect your hearing as you age: limit your exposure to loud sounds, be careful with ototoxic drugs and eat properly. When you do this, you’ll reduce your chances of getting presbycusis—the fancy word for hearing loss due to aging.
(1) Mantica, Ana. 2011. Life Line Screening.
(2) Folate and Fish Might Protect Your Hearing. October, 2010. Tufts University Health and Nutrition Newsletter.