In an exciting new study, researchers have revealed a potential ally in the fight against hearing loss: the omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The study, examining over 100,000 individuals in the United Kingdom, found an inverse relationship between blood DHA levels and hearing difficulties.
Specifically, individuals aged between 40 to 69 with higher DHA levels experienced 8-20% less age-related hearing issues than those with lower DHA levels. Essentially, the more DHA present in the blood, the better the hearing ability appeared to be.
“Higher DHA levels have previously been found to be associated with a lower risk of heart disease, cognitive impairment, and death. Our study extends these findings to suggest a role for DHA in maintaining auditory function and helping reduce the risk of age-related hearing loss,” says Michael I. McBurney, PhD, a leading scientist in the field of fatty acid research.
Dr. McBurney is not only a senior scientist with the Fatty Acid Research Institute, but also an adjunct professor at both the University of Guelph and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. He presented these findings at NUTRITION 2023, a flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.
Using the UK Biobank as a data source, the researchers assessed the self-reported hearing status and DHA levels in the blood of the participants. The researchers then organized the participants into five groups, or quintiles, based on DHA levels. What they found was enlightening.
Those in the top quintile for DHA were 16% less likely to report hearing difficulties compared to those in the bottom quintile. Moreover, those in the top quintile were 11% less likely to have trouble following conversations in a noisy environment.
Yet, Dr. McBurney has advised caution in interpreting these results. Although the association between DHA and hearing is significant, the cross-sectional nature of the study means that it can’t definitively prove that DHA is responsible for preserving hearing. Nor can it prove that a lack of DHA contributes to hearing loss.
Still, this research provides additional support to a growing body of evidence emphasizing the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, in maintaining health and slowing down aging-related decline in various body functions. Omega-3s may protect the health of inner ear cells or moderate inflammatory reactions to loud sounds, chemicals, or infections.
Our omega-3 intake largely determines the levels of DHA in our blood and tissues, as our bodies can only produce a limited amount of DHA. Regular consumption of seafood or dietary supplements can boost these levels.
Dr. McBurney endorses the importance of omega-3s. He stated, “There is strong evidence that higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial. Fatty fish and omega-3 supplements are both good dietary sources. If choosing to use a dietary supplement, compare products by reading the Supplement Facts panel for eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)+DHA content.”
An estimated 20% of the world population, over 1.5 billion people, live with hearing loss. As the global population ages, we expect this number to increase. Any breakthrough that could slow down or prevent this widespread condition is noteworthy.
Environmental factors, genetics, and medicines can influence hearing loss.It can significantly impact communication, social interactions, and opportunities in education and employment. It’s important, therefore, to find ways to mitigate its risk.
Traditional methods include protecting the ears from loud noises and seeking medical attention for infections. However, this research suggests that diet, specifically increasing omega-3 intake, may be another powerful tool in maintaining auditory health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is crucial for good health. We call them essential fatty acids because the human body cannot synthesize them. We must obtain them from the diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids play important roles in numerous physiological processes, including:
Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
They can lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase levels of good cholesterol (HDL). Omega-3 can also reduce blood pressure, slow the development of plaque in the arteries, and decrease the chance of abnormal heart rhythm.
DHA is particularly important for brain health. It is a major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye. It is crucial for normal brain development in infants and cognitive function throughout life.
Omega-3s have been found to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation can contribute to a variety of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Omega-3s can help reduce symptoms of arthritis by reducing inflammation.
Some studies suggest that omega-3s may help improve symptoms in people with depression and anxiety. They may also decrease the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. They can also be taken orally as fish oil supplements. Algae oil is a plant-based source of DHA and EPA, making it a good alternative for vegetarians and vegans.
Apart from EPA and DHA, there’s also ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another type of omega-3 fatty acid. ALA is primarily found in plant-based foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and certain vegetable oils. The human body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but the process is inefficient.
While omega-3 fatty acids are generally safe for most people, they can interact with certain medications and cause side effects at high doses. Therefore, it’s always recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.
Numerous studies are ongoing to further understand the benefits and potential uses of omega-3 fatty acids in treating various health conditions.