You might not think that your ears have much to do with your heart, but a study conducted by Yale School of Medicine in 2018 found that accelerated hearing loss in people over age 80 is a strong warning sign of underlying cardiovascular disease (CVD).
What Causes the Link?
It is thought that the restricted blood flow that defines CVD affects the cochlea, where the stereocilia (tiny, hair-like cells that convert mechanical sound into electrical energy) can be damaged or broken by inadequate blood supply.
What is CVD?
CVD is a blanket term that covers a number of heart and blood vessel disorders including:
- Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
- Atherosclerosis – plaque in the heart and vascular system
- Hypertension – high blood pressure
- Heart attack – atherosclerosis allowing a blood clot to block blood passage
- Heart failure – the heart stops working as effectively as it should
- Stroke – a blood clot in an artery blocks blood passage to the brain
- Arrhythmia – the heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly
- Heart valve problems
- Stenosis – valves do not open as much as they should
- Regurgitation – valves do not close as tightly as they should
- Prolapse – valve leaflets bulge or prolapse into the incorrect chamber
The researchers studied CAD and hypertension, as well as diabetes.
Details of the Study
In the Yale study, those who suffered an acute CVD incident had, prior to that, suffered hearing loss at a rate 62% higher than those who did not go on to have CVD. The strongest correlation was with CAD. Those who specifically had CAD also had the most severe hearing loss, measuring an amount of hearing loss after one year that is more commonly seen over a three-year period.
The comorbidity is stronger for men, and in the case of hypertension and diabetes women showed no statistically significant comorbidity at all. This is likely because women are more likely to have higher levels of estrogen, B12 and folate- all of which protect the ears.
Dietary Sources of Otoprotective Nutrients
Vitamin B12 and folate (Vitamin B9) can be found to higher degrees in chicken, eggs, salmon, clams, beef, beef liver, dairy, soy milk, almond milk, fortified cereals, grains, beans, asparagus, spinach, lentils, peas, green leafy vegetables and fruits.
Another study by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that anti-inflammatory diets such as the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED) and Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) had an extremely significant protective effect on the hearing ability of white women. Those who followed these diets closely had 30% less hearing loss over a four-year period than those with more typical American diets.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these diets are also associated with better cardiovascular health outcomes. The restricted blood flow to the cochlea which is thought to result from CVD is also potentially caused by the presence of free radicals in the blood. The antioxidants found in abundance in an anti-inflammatory diet are thought to help keep the blood vessels appropriately dilated to allow greater blood flow, thus delivering the oxygen needed by the stereocilia to stay healthy and functioning properly.
Smoking is also counter-indicated, contributing significantly to both hearing loss and CVD. Nicotine, a stimulant, works to constrict blood vessels.
Get a Hearing Test
Age-related hearing loss statistically begins around age 45, though it may not be noticeable for many years. In the study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, white women aged around 60 were given quarterly hearing tests, far more than is common for people of any age. Researchers were surprised at just how much hearing loss occurred over a four-year period. It is recommended to get a hearing test at least every three years after the age of 50. If you’re experiencing age-related hearing loss more rapidly than is normal, it could be a sign that you are also in the early stages of CVD. By getting your hearing checked regularly, even if you can currently hear with no problems, you can catch hearing loss early enough to slow its onset or start taking steps to avoid CVD.
If you do have problematic hearing loss, at whatever age, hearing aids are an important part of staying active. People with untreated hearing loss tend to be more depressed and isolated, so even if your hearing isn’t what it used to be, start treating your hearing loss with hearing aids sooner than later and stay active, healthy and happy.