Healthful diet tied to lower risk of hearing loss

 

Healthful diet tied to lower risk of hearing loss

 

Investigators have discovered that eating a healthy diet may reduce the risk of acquired hearing loss. Longitudinal data was collected in the Nurses’ Health Study II Conservation of Hearing Study (CHEARS), which researchers used to examine three-year changes in hearing sensitivities. It was revealed that women whose diets more closely adhered to commonly recommended healthful diets had a significantly lower risk of decline in hearing sensitivity.

"A common perception is that hearing loss is an inevitable part of the aging process. 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," said lead author Sharon Curhan, MD, a physician and epidemiologist in the Brigham's Channing Division of Network Medicine. "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."

Previous studies have suggested that a higher intake of specific nutrients or foods were associated with a lower risk of self-reported hearing loss. The researchers sought to further understand this connection that exists between diet and hearing loss, and so wanted to capture overall dietary patterns and measuring longitudinal changes in hearing sensitivities.

In order to do this, 19 geographically diverse testing sites were established across the U.S., manned by trained teams of licensed audiologists. The audiologists measured changes in pure-tone hearing thresholds over 3 years.

By using over 20 years of information on dietary intake, the researchers investigated how closely the participants’ long-term diets resembled some well-established and currently recommended dietary patterns. These diets included the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, and Alternate Healthy Index-2010 (AHEI-2010). These diets have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and death, as well as healthy ageing.

The researchers also found that there was a 30% lower risk of a decline in mid-frequency hearing sensitivities among those whose diets more closely resembled the healthful dietary patterns above. In the higher frequencies, the risk was up to 25% lower.

"The association between diet and hearing sensitivity decline encompassed frequencies that are critical for speech understanding," said Curhan. "We were surprised that so many women demonstrated hearing decline over such a relatively short period of time. The mean age of the women in our study was 59 years; most of our participants were in their 50s and early 60s. This is a younger age than when many people think about having their hearing checked. After only three years, 19 percent had hearing loss in the low frequencies, 38 percent had hearing loss in the mid-frequencies, and almost half had hearing loss in the higher frequencies. Despite this considerable worsening in their hearing sensitivities, hearing loss among many of these participants would not typically be detected or addressed."

 

The study included female healthcare professionals, which enhanced the validity of the health information collected and reduced the variability in educational achievement and socioeconomic status, but the study population was limited to predominantly middle-aged, non-Hispanic white women. The authors note that further research in additional populations is warranted. The team hopes to continue to longitudinally follow the participants in this study with repeated hearing tests over time and is investigating ways to collect research-quality information on tens of thousands of participants for future studies across diverse populations.

 

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