Can omega-3s protect against hearing loss?

Can omega-3s protect against hearing loss?

Improved Hearing with Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Scientific Findings and Health Benefits

Omega-3s and Hearing Loss

Image source: Kate Ames/Stocksy

As we age, it is not uncommon for the effectiveness of some of our senses — including vision, hearing, and taste — to decrease. In fact, research shows that the rate of hearing loss increases with age. It is estimated that about 25% of people aged 65 to 74 and almost half of adults aged 75 and older in the United States have disabling hearing loss1. While age-related hearing loss cannot yet be stopped, there are steps people can take to safeguard their hearing, such as avoiding loud noises and using hearing protection when in high-noise situations2.

However, a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Guelph and the Tufts University/Fatty Acid Research Institute has found a potential link between higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood and a reduction in age-related hearing issues3. The study focused on middle-aged and older adults, and those with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were found to be 8-20% less likely to report age-related hearing issues compared to those with lower DHA levels4.

Dr. Michael I. McBurney, the lead author of the study, explained that their decision to investigate the effect of omega-3s on age-related hearing issues stemmed from fascinating findings in animals, where maternal omega-3 intake during pregnancy influenced offspring hearing development5. Intrigued by this, they explored the relationship between plasma omega-3 levels and self-reported hearing loss in a large cross-sectional study using data from the UK Biobank cohort6.

The study analyzed self-reported hearing status and blood DHA levels of more than 100,000 participants aged 40-69 from the UK Biobank7. The results showed that participants in the highest quintile of blood DHA levels were 16% less likely to experience difficulty hearing, and 11% less likely to have difficulty following conversations in noisy environments compared to those in the lowest quintile8. These findings were consistent even after adjusting for various factors such as poverty, behavioral characteristics, and inflammation biomarkers9.

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered “good” fats that play a crucial role in several bodily functions. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)10. The body relies on obtaining omega-3 fatty acids from dietary sources as it cannot produce them on its own11.

Aside from their potential relationship with hearing loss, omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively studied for their impact on various aspects of health. These include reducing inflammation, improving eye health, protecting against age-related neurodegeneration, and potentially aiding in the prevention or management of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune diseases, depression, and even certain types of cancer12.

To incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, consider consuming foods rich in these essential fats. Fatty, oily fishes like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, tuna, and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3s13. Other options include walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, seaweed, algae, edamame, and certain oils such as canola and soybean oil14.

While the study on omega-3 fatty acids and hearing loss presents an exciting possibility, it is important to note that further research is needed to establish a direct link between the two. Dr. Eliott Kozin, a hearing loss specialist at Mass Eye and Ear, emphasizes the need for randomized control trials and more extensive studies to fully understand the impact of diet on hearing health15. Nevertheless, incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into your diet can benefit overall health, and it may potentially play a role in maintaining or improving hearing health16.

In conclusion, the study conducted by the University of Guelph and the Tufts University/Fatty Acid Research Institute highlights a potential link between higher omega-3 fatty acid levels and a reduced risk of age-related hearing issues. While further research is needed to establish a definitive connection, increasing your omega-3 intake through diet or supplementation can offer a range of health benefits. By taking proactive steps to care for our hearing and overall well-being, we can make the most of the joys life has to offer.

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