We all know that working in noisy environments is bad for the ears. Many people who work in loud areas, like construction sites or concert venues, can and should wear ear protection. But others aren’t so lucky.
Sometimes, you need to be able to hear the information being communicated – even if it’s communicated at top volume. If you work in a place like this, you won’t be surprised to know the volume is bad for your hearing. But earplugs aren’t your only option. There are other ways to protect your ears.
A Swedish researcher and audiologist started her research career by studying obstetrics personnel. These doctors and nurses occasionally have to listen to loud screams from women giving birth. And they do develop some hearing issues – even though the noise isn’t constant.
The researcher was interested in what happens to the ears when there’s even more noise exposure. Thinking about mothers gave her an idea: what about preschool teachers?
If you’ve been around preschoolers, you know how noisy they can be. Being in a room full of them all day pretty much guarantees regular exposure to screaming. And while some of this noise is just, well, noise, at times it can communicate pain, danger, or genuine needs.
Most parents wouldn’t be too pleased to drop their children off with teachers wearing earplugs. So the teachers have to grin and bear the noise. But it absolutely takes a toll on their ears.
The researcher surveyed 4,718 female preschool teachers and asked about various hearing-related issues. She found that a full 71% experienced sound-induced auditory fatigue. In the control group, only 32% had this symptom.
Nearly half (46%) of the preschool teachers struggled to understand speech. This was a problem for only 26% of the control group. And 39% of the teachers suffered from hyperacusis, or physical pain in the ears even from normal sounds, compared to only 18% of the control group.
The researcher recommends taking as many steps as possible to reduce noise in the environment. This includes letting loud children spend time outside and including sound-absorbing materials in classrooms.
These are good steps, but they may not be enough to protect your ears. If you spend time in a noisy environment, your ears need all the help they can get. So what can you do to prevent hearing loss?
I’ve told you before that nutrients can protect your ears from damage. If you spend your days caring for small children or in a similarly loud environment, you need to be sure you care for yourself and your ears too. And new research is confirming the benefits of an overall healthy diet.
2 Diets Protect Your Ears
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital looked at the wealth of data from the Nurses’ Health Study II. This study followed 70,966 women over the course of 22 years. It collected data on many aspects of their health, including their diets and their hearing loss.
The researchers looked at the data to see how closely the women were following one of three diets: the Alternate Mediterranean diet (AMED), Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), or the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010). They found that two diets in particular helped reduce risk of hearing loss.
Those two diets were the AMED and the DASH. The more closely the women followed these diets, the lower their hearing loss risk. And the difference was significant. In fact, their risk of moderate or more severe hearing loss was about 30% lower than that of women who didn’t have healthy diets.
Both the AMED and the DASH diets emphasize eating whole foods like fruits and vegetables. The AMED focuses on including extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and fish as well. The DASH diet emphasizes low-fat dairy and minimal sodium. The AHEI-2010 diet has some similarities and may also help reduce hearing loss.
The bottom line is that a healthy diet can help you have healthy ears. You can find more information about these specific diets online. But you don’t have to follow one or the other to the letter. Just be sure you’re eating whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. And limit your consumption of processed foods, sugar, and excess salt.
Can Nutrients Really Protect Your Hearing?
Many people don't believe nutrients can do anything to help the ears. In fact, I just received a note from Juliet. She read one of my reports on nutrients and hearing and was skeptical. The report detailed the effects of nutrients on the ears of Marines who were constantly around loud noises from artillery explosions. She wrote “Please explain to me how these scientists established the following statement from your blurb. ‘The researchers also examined the sensory hair cells of those marines and found less hair damage’ and less ringing in the ears, too. I understand that unless the subject is dead it is impossible to examine the sensory hair cells – is this not so? I am extremely deaf and your article gives me hope but it could also be that you only want to sell a product and have no real evidence of what you say.”
Well, Juliet, I’m thrilled to hear that you see hope in what I wrote. But I also understand your skepticism. Remember, with any illness, it’s far better to prevent than try to cure. So it’s better to avoid hearing loss than try to reverse complete deafness. Once the damage is done, there aren’t any guarantees that nutrients will work. But a recent study shows that it is possible.
For this study, researchers at the University of Michigan Health System formulated a special diet that they thought might be able to affect certain gene issues that can lead to hearing loss. This diet focused heavily on antioxidants, particularly beta carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), vitamins C and E, and magnesium. To test the diet's efficacy, the researchers bred mice to have a connexin 26 gene deletion. This genetic mutation typically leads to hearing loss in children.
What's interesting about this issue is that it's not all or nothing. Most people who have this mutation pass their hearing tests as newborns. Their hearing loss occurs over time. The researchers wanted to find out if there was a way to prevent this loss.
Sure enough, the mice who received the enhanced diet had less hearing loss. Some even demonstrated improvements in their hearing! The researchers suspect that oxidative stress in the inner ear can speed up the hearing loss. Antioxidants help protect the delicate sensory hair cells.
While this study focused on an issue that typically affects children, it clearly shows that nutrients can help the ears. This issue is generally considered a children's disease simply because that's when the hearing loss begins to manifest itself. But the antioxidants didn’t just slow the progression of loss for the mice. They actually reversed it in some cases. Now here's why this is important even for older folks.
The fact is that we really have no idea why some people lose their hearing as they get older and others don’t. It might very likely be that there are genetics involved that don’t fully kick in until we get older. It could also be a mixed bag, in which certain people are genetically extra susceptible to the more common problems like reduced auditory nerve function or insufficient circulation to the ears. I believe that many of these issues can be reversed with the right nutrients.
Specific Nutrients to Protect Your Hearing
There are some specific nutrients that have been shown to help your hearing on an individual level. These include N-acetyl-L cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, and acetyl-l-carnitine. I’ve written about these nutrients in the past. But there’s a lot more you can do to protect your hearing.
Researchers recently analyzed hearing in 2,592 men and women between the ages of 20-69 years. Then they looked to see if there was any correlation between hearing loss and how much vitamin C, beta-carotene, and magnesium they had in their diets. They found that the people with the highest intake of both magnesium and vitamin C had up to 20% better hearing than those with the lowest intake. Similarly, the men and women with the highest intake of both magnesium and beta-carotene had 16.57% better hearing.
And I think it’s also a good idea to make sure you’re taking a good fish oil supplement. Some data that recently came out of the Blue Mountains Hearing Study explains why. The Blue Mountains Hearing Study is a long-term study that has been looking at 2,956 older men and women to find out the various factors that can lead to age-related hearing loss. One of the things they looked at was the effect of fish oils.
They found that there’s a very strong effect on hearing from fish oils. The people who were eating two or more servings of fish per week were 42% less likely to have hearing loss than those who ate fish less than once a week. And the effect was dose related. This means that as people ate progressively more fish, their risk for hearing loss progressively decreased. The authors said “Dietary intervention with omega-3 fish oils could prevent or delay the development of age-related hearing loss.”
So make a special effort to include these nutrients in your overall healthy diet if you want to avoid hearing loss. Your ears will thank you.