What can keep your ears in good working order? Limiting loud noise—from headphones, rock concerts, lawnmowers, power tools, etc.—is step one. But researchers are also looking for other ways to protect your inner ears.

“We conducted a number of studies among over 200,000 participants in three ongoing cohorts of women and men to examine risk factors for hearing loss,” says Sharon Curhan, a Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital physician and epidemiologist.

“We also examined changes in hearing thresholds measured by audiometry in a sound booth in a subset of over 3,700 participants.”

servings of foods in the DASH diet
The DASH Diet
Here’s a snapshot of a healthy eating plan that can keep a lid on your blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and blood sugar. It’s rich in fruits and vegetables and low in bad fats, added sugars, and salt. Note: The servings—especially for vegetables and grains—are small. Also, the diet is designed for someone who eats a typical 2,000 calories a day. Scale up if you eat more.
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“The findings consistently showed that eating a healthier diet—such as the DASH or Mediterranean diet—was associated with approximately a 30 percent lower risk of hearing loss.”

A DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is packed with fruits and vegetables and includes low-fat dairy, seafood, poultry, beans, nuts, and healthy oils. 

[To see more details about how many servings of which foods are in a typical DASH-style diet, click here.]

How might diet protect hearing?

“Hearing damage can occur if there is reduced blood flow to the cochlea, injury from insufficient oxygen, oxidative damage caused by byproducts of energy metabolism, inflammation, or degeneration of the neuronal cells that transmit sound signals in the ear and brain,” says Curhan.

A healthier diet could prevent or slow that damage. “It could lead to better blood lipid levels, lower blood pressure, healthier blood vessel linings, reduced oxidative damage, and less inflammation,” says Curhan.

Curhan’s research doesn’t prove that diet can protect hearing. Something else about people who eat a healthy diet could explain their better hearing. But even so, a healthy diet is a win.

“The DASH and healthy Mediterranean diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and stroke,” notes Curhan.

Not smoking, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting the use of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin may also help prevent hearing loss, she adds.

“A common perception is that hearing loss is an inevitable part of the aging process,” says Curhan. “But our findings illustrate that changes in diet and lifestyle may prevent hearing loss or delay its progression.”

More on the DASH Diet