Foods that boost hearing: Be mindful of your minerals
Editor's note: This article was originally published in March of 2013. Due to its popularity, we have updated it to publish again.
In the fight to keep your body healthy and functioning properly, minerals play an important role. Wisdom from milk commercials tells us calcium builds strong bones. In another example, zinc is an important mineral for boosting the immune system. Some minerals, like the ones listed below, are also critical elements in protecting our hearing health. It’s true what they say — you are what you eat.
What are minerals?
Minerals are inorganic substances found in soils and rocks and are essential nutrients the body needs to survive and carry out daily functions and processes. We receive minerals by eating plants that absorb them from the earth and by eating meat from animals, which graze on plants.
Let’s take a look at the minerals that help make your hearing more efficient.
Potassium is responsible for regulating the amount of fluid in your blood and body tissue. That’s important to your hearing health because fluid in the inner ear is dependent upon a rich supply of potassium, especially in that part of the ear that translates the noises we hear into electrical impulses the brain interprets as sound. As we age, those levels naturally drop and contribute to presbycusis — or age-related hearing loss.
Potassium-rich foods include: potatoes, spinach, lima beans, tomatoes, raisins, apricots, bananas, melons, oranges, yogurt and low-fat milk. With springtime picnics marking the calendar, think about bringing your favorite low-fat buttermilk potato salad recipe or a fruit salad with citrus and melons for tasty and potassium-rich side dishes.
Folic acid is a critical element in your body’s ability to generate new cell growth. Studies have shown that adults with low levels of folic acid in their blood are more likely to develop presbycusis. Some studies show folic acid supplements may reduce hearing loss. That might be because the body uses folic acid to metabolize homocysteine, an inflammatory compound that reduces circulation. Good circulation is an important component in keeping the hair cells of the inner ear healthy and working properly.
Folate-rich foods include fortified breakfast cereal, liver, spinach, broccoli and asparagus. Breakfast is most important meal of the day. Skipping breakfast can lead to overeating later in the day, especially of foods that are poor in nutrients and high in calories. Consider starting your day with fortified breakfast cereals that are also whole grain and low in sugar.
Research conducted at the University of Michigan Kresge Hearing Research Institute has shown that people pretreated with magnesium (along with Vitamins A, C, and E) were protected from noise-related hearing loss. Scientists believe this is because magnesium combats the effects of free radicals emitted during loud noises — almost like a protective barrier for the delicate hair cells in the inner ear. Also, lack of adequate magnesium in the inner ear causes the blood vessels to shrink, depriving it of valuable oxygen.
Foods rich in magnesium include fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, artichokes, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli. Artichokes start to come in season during the springtime. The best way to serve artichokes is to boil them for 20-30 minutes and serve them with warmed butter or a cool dill yogurt dip Bonus — the yogurt dip will provide potassium too!
Zinc boosts body’s immune system and is also responsible for cell growth and healing wounds, so it’s potentially helpful in warding off germs that cause the common cold and, ultimately, those pesky ear infections. Some studies suggest it’s also effective in treating tinnitus in individuals with normal hearing. Zinc does interact with antibiotics and diuretics, though, so be sure to seek a physician’s advice before adding this mineral to your diet.
Foods rich in zinc include beef, port and dark-meat chicken, cashews, almonds, peanuts, beans, split peas, lentils, oysters — and dark chocolate! Think about trying your hand at making homemade granola bars to get your fill of zinc. Nuts and dark chocolate work great as key ingredients, along with oats, popped quinoa, raisins, dried cranberries and coconut flakes. Consider using honey, cacao butter and nut butters as binders. Search the Internet to find recipes from home cooks around the world for variations on homemade granola bars, then tweak a good recipe to your delight!
With a balanced diet that includes the vitamins from whole foods, our bodies usually produce enough of these minerals to keep us healthy and functioning effectively. Check with your physician before adding any supplements to your diet. As always, if you think you may have hearing loss, seek out a local hearing healthcare professional for a full hearing evaluation.