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Eat More Fish, Hold on to Hearing

Eating fish may help save your hearing, at least if you’re female. A new study from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that consumption of two or more servings of fish per week was linked to a 20 percent lower risk of hearing loss compared to women who rarely ate fish. The researchers followed more than 65,000 women who participated in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II from 1991 to 2009, during which 11,606 cases of hearing loss were reported. A lower risk of hearing loss was associated with eating all types of fish and shellfish, as well as with higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Earlier research had suggested a link between fish consumption and hearing loss, but this study is the first to identify a relationship over time between eating fish and self-reported hearing loss in women. Study leader Sharon G. Curhan, M.D., noted that while a decline in hearing is highly prevalent and often viewed as inevitable with aging, this study and other research suggest that there may be ways to prevent or delay it.

Sharon G. Curhan et al, “Fish and Fatty Acid Consumption and Hearing Loss in Women,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.3945/‚Äčajcn.114.091819

Smoke Gets In Your Ears?

New research from Britain has tied smoking to hearing loss. If you smoke, your odds of hearing loss are 15 percent higher than that of nonsmokers, the study found. And the researchers came up with an even bigger surprise: if you’re exposed to smoking, your risk of hearing loss is 28 percent higher than non-smokers.

A team from the University of Manchester looked at nearly 165,000 adults in the UK age 40 to 69 who took hearing tests when they joined a national project to improve health. “We found the more packets you smoke per week and the longer you smoke, the greater the risk you will damage your hearing,” said Piers Dawes, Ph.D. of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Human Communication and Deafness. The cause of the connection between hearing loss and smoking isn’t clear, Dr. Dawes said, adding that “we are not sure if toxins in tobacco smoke affect hearing directly, or whether smoking-related cardiovascular disease causes microvascular changes that impact on hearing or both.”

The increased risk among passive smokers -- higher than that for smokers -- could be the result of the study design. Smokers were compared to both complete non-smokers and passive non-smokers, but passive smokers were only compared to complete non-smokers, the researchers said.

Piers Dawes et al, “Cigarette Smoking, Passive Smoking, Alcohol Consumption, and Hearing Loss”, Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10162-014-0461-0

Weight Loss + Exercise Could Save Your Hearing

The heavier women are, the higher their risk of hearing loss compared to women of normal weight. This surprising finding stems from the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II that, along with other health parameters, tracked physical activity, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and hearing loss among 68,000 women from 1989 to 2009. On the positive side, the researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that the more physically active the women in the study were, the lower their risk of hearing loss. The researchers reported that women who had a BMI indicating obesity had a 17 percent higher risk of hearing loss than women whose BMI was lower than 25, indicating normal weight. Women with a BMI of 40 or more had a 25 percent higher risk of hearing loss than normal weight women, the study showed. As far as exercise is concerned, the most physically active women had a 17 percent lower risk of hearing loss than the least physically active women. The study found that walking two hours or more per week lowered the risk of hearing loss risk by 15 percent compared to walking less than an hour a week. The results were published in the December 2013 issue of the American Journal of Medicine.

My take? Obesity increases the risk of illness and death due to diabetes, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney and gallbladder disease; it may also increase the risk for some types of cancer and is a primary risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis and sleep apnea. And now it appears that obesity may also increase the risk of hearing loss. Earlier research from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons found that obese teenagers have a nearly twice the risk of one-sided low frequency hearing loss, compared to normal weight teens. Here, the researchers suggested that this accelerated hearing loss might be associated with inflammation stemming from obesity. Clearly, as the news about hearing loss attests, the list of health risks presented by obesity continues to grow.

Anil K. Lalwani et al, “Obesity is associated with sensorineural hearing loss in adolescents,” The Laryngoscope, DOI: 10.1002/lary.24244