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Hearing loss: Can Omega-3 fatty acid prevent it?

Hearing loss: Can Omega-3 fatty acid prevent it?

Hearing declines with age; in the US, 50% of persons 75 and older have a debilitating hearing loss. There is presently no cure for hearing loss brought on by ageing.

Increased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a reduction in age-related hearing problems have been found by researchers from Tufts University and the University of Guelph.

Some of our senses, such as vision, hearing, and taste can become less effective as we become older.

In fact, studies have shown that hearing loss occurs more frequently as people age. In the United States, about half of seniors 75 and older and around 25% of people in the 65 to 74 age range have hearing loss that is disabling.

Although there is currently no cure for age-related hearing loss, people can take precautions to protect their hearing, such as avoiding loud noises and wearing hearing protection in noisy environments.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is associated with hearing health. Now, researchers from the University of Guelph and Tufts University/Fatty Acid Research Institute have discovered that middle-aged and older adults with higher levels of DHA were 8–20% less likely to report age-related hearing issues than those with lower DHA levels.

What are Omega-3 fatty acid?

The body requires omega-3 fatty acids as a sort of “good” fat for a number of purposes, making them “essential” fats.

Omega-3 fatty acids come in three primary categories:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
  • EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid
  • DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for the organism to:

  • construct and maintain healthy cell membranes
  • start the process of producing the hormones necessary for blood clotting and maintaining the function of the arterial walls.
  • help regulate genetic activity

The effects of omega-3 fatty acids on other aspects of bodily health, such as lowering inflammation, enhancing eye health, and preventing age-related neurodegeneration, have been the subject of extensive research over the past several years.

Additionally, prior research suggests omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for treating a variety of illnesses, including depression, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers.

The body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own, despite the fact that it needs them. It must instead rely on taking supplements and eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids to get them.

Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods include:

  • fatty, oily fish such as tuna, sardines, anchovies, salmon, and mackerel
  • walnuts
  • flaxseed
  • the chia seed
  • Algae and seaweed
  • edamame
  • a few oils, like soybean and canola

Is there a connection between Omega-3s and hearing loss?

The lead author of this study, Dr. Michael I. McBurney, a senior scientist with the Fatty Acid Research Institute and an adjunct professor in the Department of Human Health & Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, explained that they chose to investigate the impact of omega-3s on age-related hearing issues because they were intrigued by findings that hearing develops in offspring in animals.

Furthermore, he added, “omega-3s affected animal cochlear metabolism.” Finally, increased fish and omega-3 dietary intake was negatively correlated with age-related hearing loss in people.

So, Dr. McBurney continued, “we chose to investigate the association between plasma omega-3 levels and self-reported hearing loss in the UK Biobank cohort a very large cross-sectional study.”

DHA and age-related hearing loss research

More than 100,000 participants aged 40 to 69 from the UK Biobank’s self-reported hearing status and blood DHA levels were used in this study by Dr. McBurney and his team.

Following examination, scientists discovered that people with blood DHA levels in the highest quintile were 16% less likely to respond “yes” to the question “Do you have difficulty hearing?” compared to people with DHA levels in the bottom quintile.

Participants in the highest quintile were also 11% less likely to say “yes” in response to the question, “Do you find it difficult to follow conversations when there is background noise?” weighed against the bottom quintile.

Researchers discovered that middle-aged and older persons with greater DHA levels were between 8 and 20 percent less likely to report age-related hearing problems than those with lower DHA levels.

In relation to age- and sex-adjusted hearing loss, “we had hypothesised that there would be an inverse relationship between plasma omega-3 concentrations and hearing loss,” Dr. McBurney remarked. Even after further adjusting for socioeconomic deprivation (Townsend Deprivation Index), behavioural traits (BMI, smoking, and alcohol intake), and inflammation biomarkers (C-reactive protein, neutrophil: lymphocyte ratio), it was satisfying to find support for this theory.

Research on EPA, DHA, and omega-3 to move forward

According to Dr. McBurney, this study did not establish a link between poor omega-3 status and hearing loss.

This determination will require randomized, placebo-controlled, omega-3 intervention trials in humans,” he added. “However, there is strong evidence linking high omega-3 status low EPA+DHA concentrations to benefits for cardiovascular, brain, and visual health. Low omega-3 intake and status are linked to an increased risk of several chronic illnesses, preterm delivery, and all-cause death.”

“It is important to eat foods rich in EPA+DHA and/or use an omega-3 supplement,” Dr. McBurney continued. “I recommend measuring blood EPA+DHA levels, then following dietary advice and making changes as necessary to reach recommended EPA+DHA status.”

Further research on this subject is required, according to Dr. Eliott Kozin, a hearing loss specialist at Mass Eye and Ear who was not involved in this study.

He said, “The current study investigated whether there may be a relationship between blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and subjective hearing complaints.” Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce hearing loss, although the current study only demonstrates a probable link. The results may be explained by additional, untested causes. For instance, people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids might be more health-conscious, and other factors might be directly related to hearing health.

Dr. Kozin continued, “Future high-prospective research is needed to better understand the effect diet has on our hearing health. This kind of excellent nutrition-focused research is supported by the current study.”

Findings on the benefits of omega-3

Dr. Courtney Voelker, a board-certified neurotologist and director of the Adult & Paediatric Cochlear Implant Programme at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, California, was among the experts who discussed this study with him.

The research was encouraging to Dr. Voelker since omega-3 fatty acids “strike again.”

We know that omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have an effect on the heart, brain development in utero with babies, as well as when we get older with cognitive impairments,” she said. And currently, a connection with better hearing or at least halting hearing loss appears to exist.

Dr. Voelker continued, “The strength of this study is that it is a large population. The study’s flaws include the fact that participants only self-reported their hearing loss. Therefore, it is uncertain if there is a direct connection or not.”

Dr. Voelker claimed that increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids through diet is the best way to reap the potential health advantages of these fats.

Fish, such as mackerel or salmon, as well as other seafood, like oysters, are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” she explained. If you don’t eat a lot of seafood, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Dr. Voelker continued, “There needs to be a randomised control trial utilising omega-3 fatty acids to look at long-term hearing loss in very large populations in order to identify if there is a strong link (between) omega-3 fatty acids and hearing loss.”


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