Vitamins and hearing healthFoods that boost hearing health: The power of vitamins
Many of us know that vitamin D helps our bones and vitamin A is good for vision, but are there any equivalent vitamins for hearing health?
Not exactly, said Dr. Sharon Curhan, MD, a physician and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston. While there is evidence that a healthy diet is linked to a lower risk of hearing loss, no silver bullet nutrient has emerged. And while some studies have surfaced clues about vitamin intake and hearing health, the findings are often contradictory and include important caveats, she noted.
"For example, in animal models, combinations of certain nutrients were protective against hearing loss; however, studies in humans have produced conflicting results," said Curhan, who researches modifiable risk factors for hearing loss and tinnitus.
What the research shows
Take vitamin C, for example. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an essential nutrient for bone, skin and blood vessel health.
At least one animal study indicated vitamin C may be protective against noise-induced hearing loss. However, this benefit has yet to be studied in people, and a 2015 observational study found that supplementing with high levels of vitamin C was linked to an increased risk of hearing loss. Therefore, it's unclear how beneficial vitamin C is for preventing or treating hearing loss.
Carotenoids contribute to the orange color of many different fruits and vegetables and have several functions that are important for human health, including roles in antioxidant defense, cell-to-cell communication, and as a precursor to vitamin A.
In the 2015 study mentioned above, women with higher intakes of two specific carotenoids, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, had a lower risk of hearing loss. The study was a large longitudinal study that included more than 65,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II.
Folate, or vitamin B9, is also an essential nutrient; it's crucial for cell division. It's found naturally in many foods. (Folic acid is the synthetic form used in food additives and supplements.)
Curhan and her team found that higher folate intake was associated with a lower risk of hearing loss.
"This finding for folate is consistent with a randomized clinical trial in the Netherlands that showed oral folic acid supplementation was inversely associated with hearing decline over 3 years," she said.
However, there were limitations to that study; for example, the Dutch food supply is not fortified with folic acid. In the U.S. many foods are fortified, so taking an additional supplement may not provide the same benefits seen in the Dutch study.
What about vitamins and tinnitus?
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is very common, affecting nearly 1 out of every 10 Americans. While many sufferers would welcome a dietary solution to ease their tinnitus, Curhan said data on diet and tinnitus is scarce at best.
"This is an area that is in critical need of further study," she said.
Your best bet for protecting hearing
Vitamins are big business—about one-third of all Americans regularly take a multivitamin/mineral supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But, when it comes to hearing health, Curhan suggests people focus instead on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and healthy fats.
"Eating an overall healthy diet...may be helpful in the prevention of hearing loss," she said.
Whole foods: What should you eat?
Although the multivitamin industry generates upwards of $6 billion in sales each year, many doctors urge people, especially seniors, to actually take fewer vitamin supplements and work on getting their vitamins from whole foods instead. After all, vitamins are sold as supplements for a reason—they should be supplemental to one’s diet, especially if a person isn't at increased risk for nutritional deficiencies.
But which foods are vitamin-rich? Here are a few recommendations for foods that contain vitamins A, C, E and folate—all of which have at least preliminary evidence that they're good for your hearing health.
Because lots of things besides diet affect hearing, and no vitamins are directly linked to hearing health, eating a balanced diet is still the best way to get the nutrients your body needs to function effectively. You may also want to read up on these 7 lifestyle tips to prevent hearing loss.
Please consult with your family doctor before adding any vitamins or supplements to your diet. If you have any concerns about your hearing, contact a hearing care professional near you.