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That fresh foods and vegetables are “good for you” comes as no surprise, but how exactly are these healthy foods promoting your wellbeing? The list of effects related to healthy foods is quite extensive, ranging not only from the obvious markers of physical health but also to mental health and reports of overall well being.
In this long list, did you know that hearing health is included? Although it might come as a surprise, lower rates of hearing loss are associated with heart-healthy diets, particularly the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Alternative Mediterranean (AMED) diets. Let’s take a look at what these diets can do for you, as well as some speculation about the relationship between hearing and nutrition.
What Diets Are Linked to Prevention?
A recent study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital looked at two diets in particular—the DASH and AMED diets—and determined an association with lower rates of hearing loss among older women. Specifically, the women who adhered more closely to these diets were 25% less likely to incur high-frequency hearing loss than their counterparts who did not follow these nutritional patterns. What are the important elements of these diets?
The two have much in common. Both dietary plans emphasize those classic elements: fresh fruits and vegetables. They both include whole grains in a daily plan, as well. In addition, they prescribe limited amounts of red meat, saturated fats, and sodium. The AMED diet explains some strategies to combat these common elements. Substituting chicken and fish for red meat is a no brainer, and olive oil can be substituted for butter to reduce saturated fat in the nutritional profile. One creative idea is to use herbs rather than added salt to reduce overall sodium levels. An added benefit of the AMED diet is that it permits red wine daily!
How Do These Diets Prevent Hearing Loss?
Researchers are unsure exactly how the connection between diet and hearing loss works. In the first place, we know that these diets are associated with better heart health and lower rates of hypertension and other cardiovascular disease. By lowering cholesterol in the blood itself, the blood vessels are less likely to be clogged, leading to less strain on the heart muscle to push blood through these blood vessels. This relationship between diet and health is clearly established in the medical literature, but what about that other connection with hearing loss?
We know that the tiny hairlike cells of the inner ear called stereocilia are very sensitive, and they require amply oxygenated blood to thrive. When the bloodstream is depleted of oxygen and nutrients, it is possible that the stereocilia suffer damage.
Another possibility has to do with antioxidants in a heart-healthy diet. Both of these diets are high in nutrition that provides these rebuilding elements for the body. “Oxidative stress” is linked to cell damage, and it is possible that cell damage of this kind includes those tiny hairlike cells. Other experts point to a holistic approach to the body as an interconnected network of organs, cells, and tissues. When nutrition is healthy, each of these elements has what it needs to thrive. As they say, “You are what you eat.”
How to Make a Dietary Change
If you are interested in pursuing one of these diets in search of hearing loss prevention or better overall health, it is important to remember to be patient with yourself. Rather than trying to jump start your health and immunity by going cold turkey, introduce some changes gradually.
Basic substitutions are a good place to start rather than trying to overhaul your diet overnight. Once you have a sustainable baseline, you can work to reduce processed foods, sugars, and sodium over time. If you have a weakness for junk food, don’t throw out your ambition after one meal of indulgences. Just jump back in with the healthy foods that you enjoy at your next meal.
Lifestyle change is more about building good habits than about restrictions and limitations, and the benefits you gain from a healthy diet will be added encouragement to continue to pursue your healthy diet plan in the future. The benefits of healthy eating, including hearing loss prevention, are waiting for you!