Link Found Between Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Age-Related Hearing Loss
Hearing diminishes as we age — about 50% of adults 75 and over in the United States have disabling hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss cannot currently be stopped. Researchers from the University of Guelph and Tufts University/Fatty Acid Research Institute have found a link between increased omega-3 fatty acids in the blood and less age-related hearing issues.
The Impact of Aging on Hearing
As we age, it is not uncommon for the effectiveness of some of our senses — including vision, hearing, and taste — to decrease. In fact, research shows the rate of hearing loss increases with age. In the United States, about 25% of people ages 65 to 74 and almost half of adults aged 75 and older have disabling hearing loss. Although age-related hearing loss cannot yet be stopped, people can take steps to safeguard their hearing, such as avoiding loud noises and using hearing protection when in high-noise situations.
The Study and Findings
Now researchers from the University of Guelph and Tufts University/Fatty Acid Research Institute have found middle-aged and older adults with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were 8-20% less likely to report age-related hearing issues compared to those with lower DHA levels. This research was recently presented at NUTRITION 2023, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.
Quotes from Dr. Michael I. McBurney
- “Cochlear metabolism in animals was affected by omega-3s. Higher consumption of fish and omega-3s was inversely associated with age-related hearing loss in humans. So we decided to explore the relationship between plasma omega-3 levels and self-reported hearing loss in the UK Biobank cohort — a very large cross-sectional study.”
- “We had hypothesized that there would be an inverse relationship between plasma omega-3 concentrations and age- and sex-adjusted hearing loss,” Dr. McBurney said. “It was rewarding to confirm this hypothesis, even when further adjusted for poverty (Townsend Deprivation Index), behavioral characteristics (BMI, smoking, and alcohol consumption), and inflammation biomarkers (C-reactive protein, neutrophil: lymphocyte ratio).”
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Their Benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of “good” fat the body needs for a variety of functions, making them “essential” fats. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
The body needs omega-3 fatty acids to:
- Promote brain health
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve eye health
- Protect against age-related neurodegeneration
Previous studies have also shown that omega-3s may aid in certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune diseases, depression, and even some types of cancer.
While further studies are needed to determine the direct link between omega-3 fatty acids and hearing loss, this research provides encouraging evidence of a potential association. To increase omega-3 fatty acids intake, individuals are encouraged to incorporate foods rich in omega-3s into their diet or consider using omega-3 supplements.