Vitamins and minerals—we all know they’re good for our overall health. But did you know those benefits extend to our ears as well? From potassium and magnesium to vitamins C and E, nutrients pack a punch when it comes to hearing health care. Let’s dive into which ones are known to help maintain or improve hearing.
Minerals are substances found in water and soil, which plants then absorb. When we consume plant products (or animals that have eaten these plant products), our bodies get to reap the benefits of these nourishing nutrients.
Magnesium and other minerals have been shown to help or improve common hearing conditions such as age-related hearing loss, ear infections and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Here’s a closer look at a few of those minerals.
What Magnesium can do: Block molecules from damaging our inner ear
Noise-induced hearing loss is a significant health issue among adults. However, researchers have found magnesium may play an important role in protecting our ears from the damaging effects of noise. Loud sounds prompt the production of free radical molecules in our ear, which damage the delicate hair cells of the inner ear. Since these hair cells are needed to transmit sound from the ear to the brain, this damage can result in noise-induced hearing loss. The good news: Evidence suggests that magnesium can help block the activity of these cell-damaging molecules. In one study, 300 subjects who were given a magnesium supplement before prolonged exposure to loud noise were significantly less likely to develop noise-induced hearing loss than the control group.
Many people with noise-induced hearing loss also suffer from tinnitus. Magnesium has been shown to relieve the severity of tinnitus symptoms. A healthy supply of magnesium also keeps the blood vessels relaxed, allowing adequate blood to flow throughout the body, including through the vessels in the inner ear.
What Potassium can do: Help inner ear convert sound into signals to send to the brain
Potassium helps our body do a lot of things, including help it regulate the fluid in our blood and tissues. Researchers have found the fluid in our inner ear needs potassium as part of its crucial process of converting sound into nerve impulses that get sent to the brain. Potassium levels in our inner ear drop as we age, which can contribute to age-related hearing loss. Therefore, it’s important to load up on potassium-rich foods to help maintain a healthy supply and balance of potassium in the inner ear.
What Zinc can do: Fight off bacteria and viruses; treat sudden hearing loss
This micronutrient is known for its immune-boosting powers and ability to help fight off colds. Zinc helps activate and produce T-cells (T-lymphocytes)—our bodies’ defender cells that are specifically designed to recognize and destroy bacteria, viruses and other invaders. While studies have shown mixed results on whether this mineral actually prevents ear infections, it’s not a bad idea to fuel up on foods rich in this anti-inflammatory mineral for your hearing health. One hearing-related issue that zinc has been shown to help is sudden hearing loss. Research shows zinc supplementation can help recover and improve hearing for those experiencing sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL).
Note: Check with your doctor first before adding zinc supplement to your routine, especially if you take antibiotics or diuretics, as zinc can negatively interact with these types of medications.
Vitamins for Hearing
Vitamins are organic substances found in plants and animals, which we need in order to grow and remain healthy. Our bodies do not produce enough vitamins on their own, so it’s important to load up on a variety of vitamin-rich foods and/or take vitamin supplements. Wondering which vitamins could improve hearing or ward off hearing loss? Here are some great vitamins for ear health:
What folate (folic acid) can do: Fight free radicals that can damage our hearing
Low levels of folate (and its synthetic form, folic acid) have been linked to higher incidence of hearing loss. In one study, steady supplementation of folic acid resulted in a slower rate of hearing loss—particularly in the frequencies associated with speech.
How does folate improve hearing? A few things seem to be at play. First, folic acid appears to help the body metabolize homocysteine, an amino acid that can reduce and impair blood flow to the inner ear (as well as other parts of the body). Research strongly suggests that proper metabolization of this amino acid plays a significant role in the development and progression of sensorineural hearing loss.
Folates are also an antioxidant that helps fight off free radicals—those pesky little molecules that have gained a reputation for causing a whole host of issues in the body over time. Free radical activity can reduce blood flow to the inner ear, as well as damage our ear’s delicate sensory cells needed for healthy hearing. And once those cells are destroyed, they cannot grow back.
What sparks free radical production? Often, it’s a stressor on the body, such as excessive or loud noise. Research has shown exposure to loud noise triggers an increase in formation of these damaging free radicals.
What vitamin D can do: Keep your middle ear bones strong and healthy
Vitamin D is important for bone health. Not getting enough of this vitamin can wreak havoc on bones throughout our body—including the trio of tiny, yet crucial bones in our middle ear. Without vitamin D, these three ear bones can soften and weaken, which can impact hearing. Vitamin D is important for people of every age, but it’s especially important for older adults, who for environmental, health and metabolic reasons often have less vitamin D in their system.
What magnesium with vitamins A and C can do: Act in synergy to slash your risk of hearing damage
Studies have shown a diet rich in magnesium, vitamin C and beta-carotene (which our body converts into vitamin A) is associated with a lower risk of hearing loss. How so? It appears they can protect against inner ear cell damage caused by free radicals. Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants and have been shown to halt excessive production of these free radicals, which (as previously mentioned) can damage the delicate cells in our ears needed for proper hearing. Animal studies have also shown that supplementing with vitamins A, C and E (plus magnesium) before exposure to loud noise can actually help prevent noise-induced hearing damage.
The Link Between Tinnitus, Vitamins and SupplementsThere are many ear health supplements that claim to treat tinnitus, but studies are mixed on whether taking supplements or vitamins for tinnitus can actually improve symptoms. That said, magnesium has been shown to relieve the severity of tinnitus symptoms. In another study, men with tinnitus who had a vitamin B12 deficiency experienced significant improvement after receiving intra-muscular injections of the vitamin. Zinc is another nutrient that is sometimes touted to improve symptoms of tinnitus, but studies have failed to demonstrate a significant link between zinc supplementation and tinnitus relief.
Your Grocery List for Hearing Health
Want to improve hearing and prevent (or delay) the onset of hearing loss? Stock your kitchen with foods rich in nutrients known to boost hearing health:
- Potassium: bananas, beet greens, milk, oranges, potatoes (including sweet potatoes), spinach, tomatoes,
- Magnesium: avocados, spinach, broccoli, bananas, beans, whole grains
- Zinc: oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork, fortified cereals
- Folate/Folic Acid: asparagus, spinach, avocado, beans, peas, enriched cereals/breads/pasta
- Vitamin A (beta-carotene): carrots, cantaloupe, red peppers, sweet potato, pumpkin
- Vitamin B-12: dairy, eggs, meat, chicken, seafood
Vitamin C: strawberries, oranges, kiwis, red and green peppers, broccoli