Eat Fish to Prevent Hearing Loss
There have been plenty of stories in the media about both the dangers and benefits of fish consumption. In the minus column, there are risks of exposure to high levels of mercury and pesticide residues from eating certain types of fish on a regular basis. But in the plus column, intake of fish has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and depression. And now, there is another potential positive health effect that has been linked to consuming fish. New research has determined that indulging in fish frequently may help prevent hearing loss.
The study, which took place at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, found that women who regularly eat fish twice a week have a markedly lower incidence of hearing loss than their counterparts who do no eat fish.1 The subjects were more than 100,000 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study, a longitudinal study concerning many aspects of women's health. All of the participants were between the ages of 27 and 42 at the start of this trial. They completed questionnaires regarding their daily eating habits. In addition, there was a medical portion with questions that focused on any hearing difficulties they had experienced and how old they were when these audiology problems began.
After all of the data was collected, the scientists discovered that the women who consumed two or more servings of fish every week had a 20 percent decreased risk of developing hearing loss compared to the women who abstained from eating fish. And while it might be expected that some varieties of fish provide greater protection from hearing loss than others, that was not the case. Surprisingly, all types of fish appeared to offer similar benefits to our hearing, regardless of whether they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids or not.
Most fish that have been associated with conferring various health advantages are those with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These varieties of fish, including salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are great sources of omega-3s. But the current research found that every type of fish the women reported eating seemed to have a positive effect on hearing. This included not only salmon, herring, and other dark fish, but also tuna and light kinds of fish such as trout and sea bass.
These results are particularly important because hearing loss is a considerable problem as we age. In fact, 30 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 and 47 percent of people 75 or older experience some type of hearing impairment, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. And that can be more than just frustrating conversationally. Hearing loss in the elderly was linked in a 2011 study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland to an increased risk of developing dementia.2 Therefore, anything we can do to promote the retention of hearing abilities--whether it be turning down the music, wearing earplugs in noisy environments, or eating more fish--is definitely something worth considering before it is too late because most hearing loss is irreversible.
A 2010 study at the University of Sydney in Australia drew similar conclusions to the current research, as they found a 42 percent decreased risk of hearing loss in men and women over 50 who consumed fish twice a week versus their peers who ate fish less than once a week.3 While it is not entirely clear exactly how eating fish can protect us from hearing impairment, it may have something to do with its effect on blood vessels, which may foster proper regulation of blood circulation within the ear.
So, it would appear that in order to help preserve your hearing as you grow older, you might want to increase your intake of fish to at least twice a week. If your preferences happen to lie with fish such as wild caught salmon that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, you may reap additional benefits as well. But better any type of fish regularly that you prefer than to skimp on fish consumption because you don't like those with more omega-3s. And be careful about the way you prepare your fish dishes. Those who eat fried fish several times a week are not only packing on tons of wasted calories, but actually raising their stroke risk.
- 1. Aubrey, Allison. "Women Who Eat Fish Twice Weekly Cut Their Risk of Hearing Loss." NPR. 10 September 2014. Accessed 15 September 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/09/10/347385040/women-who-eat-fish-twice-weekly-cut-risk-of-hearing-loss
- 2. Lin, Frank R.; et al. "Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia." JAMA Neurology. 14 February 2011. Accessed 16 September 2014. http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=802291&resultClick=3
- 3. Gopinath, Bamini; et al. "Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and fish and risk of age-related hearing loss." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 9 June 2010. Accessed 16 September 2014. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/92/2/416.abstract?sid=c181887f-b033-4829-8257-f1621cfcae05