The Surprising Connection Between a Heart-Healthy Diet and Your Ears

Mediterranean diet of fish and vegetables for hearing loss.

In the era of cheeseburgers and french fries, it can be incredibly challenging to maintain a healthy heart. And that can have drastic consequences for your hearing.

Wait… your hearing? You’re familiar, probably, with many of the cardiovascular risks that might arise due to poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and too many trips to the drive-thru window. So you would have been expecting that. But surprising new research into the Mediterranean diet is showing us just how connected your body is–and how what’s good for your heart can be good for your ears, too.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The first thing you should know about the Mediterranean diet is that it’s not really a “diet” in the traditional sense. You aren’t counting calories or fasting or chasing short term weight loss goals. Instead, the Mediterranean diet is modeled on the everyday eating choices popular in southern Europe (especially Italy and Greece). It’s the kind of thing that people talk about as a “making healthy lifestyle choices.”

Generally speaking, a Mediterranean Diet will consist of:

  • Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, nuts, and seeds
  • Generous use of healthy fats like olive oil
  • Fish, poultry, and other lean meats
  • Very limited dairy and red meats

The idea is that your body gets more healthy fats than unhealthy fats. There’s an emphasis on plants, with fewer meals centered around a giant slab of meat. And, of course, all the whole grains help, too (for example, you can eat pasta and bread so long as they’re whole-grain pasta and bread).

A heart-healthy choice

You might be noticing that the so-called Mediterranean diet features many foods that are generally considered to be good for you–fruits, vegetables, whole grains, omega-3s, and so on. So it’s not as though there’s some magic combination hidden within the Mediterranean diet which unlocks healthier hearing–it’s just that this particular diet is heavy on items that have well-known health benefits.

Eating fruits and vegetables, limiting your red meat, and minimizing sodium consumption, for example, can help you control your blood pressure. And keeping your blood pressure in a normal range is one thing we know is good for both your heart and your ears.

How does the Mediterranean Diet help your hearing?

New research suggests that those who regularly eat a Mediterranean style diet show a roughly 30% lower risk of developing age-related hearing loss. This study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at data from over 10,000 individuals. So there’s a fair bit of statistical support bolstering these findings.

So now we know that healthy servings of fruits and vegetables are good for your hearing. Scientists are still working on the why and how. The current, most favored theory is that Mediterranean-style diets improve blood flow throughout your circulatory system, ensuring that the stereocilia in your ears are well-nourished as you age. The more robust your stereocilia remain, the less likely these fine hairs are to absorb damage that results in hearing loss.

This is the same reason why hearing specialists will also encourage you to avoid smoking tobacco products (a decision that is also good for your ears and your heart). Nicotine constricts blood flow, which can damage stereocilia and results in rapid deterioration of your hearing.

Choose with your heart

The connection between your hearing and your heart might seem surprising at first. But it also reflects what scientists already know about the body: one thing affects another. Your body is a holistic entity, so a healthy heart (and especially healthy blood pressure) will almost certainly have an impact on your hearing. (Hey, you can’t spell “heart” without “hear”).

A Mediterranean diet is only one example of how you might make good hearing choices by being heart-healthy. A good diet, regular exercise, and low cholesterol–just about everything that’s good for your heart will offer benefits for the rest of your body, too. All the more reason to avoid the cheeseburger and fries.

Want more information?

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