Chocolate, wine and hearing loss
February is a banner month for wine and chocolate, mostly because both confections have become traditional expressions of love on Valentine’s Day. According to History.com, Americans purchase 58 million pounds of chocolate and consume 174,000 gallons of sparkling wine during Valentine’s week.
While both are considered a sweet show of devotion, how do they affect your hearing health?
Go ahead and pour a glass
Wine aficionados everywhere will be happy to know that consuming a daily glass of red wine can actually protect your hearing health, especially hearing loss related to excessive noise. The magic ingredient is resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes that researchers believe can lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.
When researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit gave resveratrol to healthy laboratory rats before subjecting them to loud noise over a sustained period of time, they discovered the rats’ hearing recovered more quickly, and they were less likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The study, published in the February 2013 online issue of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery, revealed that resveratrol decreases the body’s expression of the COX-2 protein, a nutrient which plays a key role in inflammation.
Yet, while a glass or two of red wine can guard against the type of inflammation that causes NIHL, excessive drinking deposits toxic levels of alcohol in your bloodstream which can permanently damage your hearing. A 2004 study by researchers at Germany’s University of Ulm discovered that alcoholics suffer damage to the central auditory brainstem, causing delays in the brain’s response to signals it receives from the auditory nerve. So, even though the mechanics of the ear are working well, alcohol damages the brain’s ability to interpret the auditory signals it’s receiving.
Let them eat (dark) chocolate
Well, let’s be clear. It’s not chocolate that protects your hearing health as much as it is one of the minerals it contains. Dark chocolate, in particular, contains zinc, which is known for boosting the immune system and guarding against infections that plague the ear.
Zinc may also aid in hearing recovery for those who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), a condition which inexplicably affects a very small part of the population each year. Hearing recovery happens in as many as 65 percent of SSNHL cases; however, a 2013 study found that zinc significantly enhanced the recovery rate when combined with the prescribed steroid treatment. Researchers suspect zinc’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help reduce oxidative stress of the cochlea. (Note: zinc can interfere with antibiotics and diuretics, so check with your doctor before adding this as a supplement.)
Inflammation and hearing health
All this talk about inflammation may have you wondering what it has to do with your hearing health. The answer to that lies in the inner ear, where sound processing takes place. Good circulation is important to the health of sensory hair cells which are responsible for translating the noise collected by the outer ear into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound. Inflammation, such as that which occurs during an ear infection, can inhibit circulation in the blood vessels which feed these stereocilia and cause them irreparable harm.
Unlike other mammals, human stereocilia do not regenerate. Once they die, or become damaged, your sense of hearing is permanently affected. Healthy eating and exercise habits, combined with reducing exposure to excessive environmental and occupational noise, can help preserve hearing acuity into old age.
Moderation is key
So how does this affect your Valentine’s Day activities? As with all things in life, moderation is key. It’s okay to enjoy a glass of wine and some dark chocolate in celebration.
And, while studies point to the benefits of adding moderate amounts of dark chocolate and red wine to your diet, there’s no substitute for having your hearing health evaluated on an annual basis by a qualified hearing healthcare professional. Not only can they can administer a hearing evaluation to determine how well you’re hearing and recommend a course of treatment if the results indicate hearing loss, they can also provide educational information on how to preserve your remaining sense of hearing.
If you don’t already have a hearing healthcare professional, search Healthy Hearing’s professional directory to find a qualified hearing care clinic in your community. Verified patient reviews can help you choose which professional is right for you and your loved ones.