Greater Omega 3 Fatty Acid Intake Associated With Delayed Age Related Hearing Loss

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June 18, 2010

Greater omega-3 fatty acid intake associated with delayed age-related hearing loss

Greater omega-3 fatty acid intake associated with delayed age-related hearing loss

An article published online on June 9, 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals the finding of Australian researchers of a protective effect for omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid and fish consumption against the development of age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis.

For the current research, Paul Mitchell of the University of Sydney and his colleagues evaluated data from participants in the Blue Mountains Hearing Study of age-related hearing loss conducted between 1997 and 2004. The participants underwent audiologic examinations upon enrollment and at 5 and 10 year follow-up visits. Food frequency questionnaire responses were analyzed for dietary intake of fish and the long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), in addition to the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and omega-6 fatty acids.

Greater total omega-3 fatty acid intake was associated with a lower risk of hearing loss at the beginning of the study, and increased long chain omega-3 fatty acid intake was associated with a reduced risk of developing hearing loss over follow-up. A reduction was also observed among those who consumed at least 2 servings of fish per week, who had a 42 percent lower risk of hearing loss at the 5 year follow-up compared with those who ate 1 serving per week. Additionally, a reduced risk of hearing loss progression was observed in those who consumed 1 to 2 servings of fish per week.

The authors suggest that the cardiovascular benefit documented for omega-3 fatty acids and fish may help maintain or improve blood flow to the ear's cochlea, thereby helping to prevent hearing loss. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids and fish could have a direct effect on cochlear microcirculatory flow or provide benefits via other mechanisms.

"To our knowledge, the potential influence of omega-3 PUFAs and fish consumption on auditory function has not been investigated," the authors write. "Our cohort study indicated that dietary total omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were significantly and inversely associated with the prevalence of hearing loss. A higher dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 PUFAs was associated with a 24% decreased risk of developing incident hearing loss."

"Dietary intervention with omega-3 PUFAs could prevent or delay the development of age-related hearing loss," they conclude.

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Tinnitus is a subjective disorder characterized as chronic ringing, roaring, buzzing, humming, chirping, or hissing in the ears in the absence of environmental noise (ATA 2002). Symptoms of tinnitus are frequently found in elderly persons and are often associated with hearing loss related to the aging process (presbycusis). Although the cause is usually unknown, tinnitus can be a symptom of almost any ear disorder, including infection (otitis media), a blocked ear canal (ear wax) or Eustachian tube, otosclerosis (overgrowth of bone in the middle ear), labyrinthitis, and Meniere's disease. Even blast injury from explosions has been known to cause symptoms of tinnitus. Additionally, adverse side effects from some drugs (e.g., aspirin and antibiotics) cause tinnitus symptoms.

According to Michael Seidman, MD (Tinnitus Center in Bloomfield, Michigan), there are specific nutrients that have been suggested to benefit persons with tinnitus. B-complex supplements lead this category because deficiencies in the B vitamins have been shown to result in tinnitus. The B vitamin complex stabilizes nerves and appears to have a beneficial effect on some tinnitus patients. However, only anecdotal evidence is available on this therapy.

Some patients say vitamin B1 (thiamine) supplemented at 100-500 mg daily has provided them with relief from symptoms. Vitamin B3 (niacin) is the subject of numerous anecdotal reports that purport it to help reduce symptoms. Dr. Seidman usually recommends a starting dosage of 50 mg twice a day of niacin, up to a maximum of 500 mg twice a day, but he believes that if there is no improvement within 3-4 months, it is unlikely to occur.

There may also be some correlation between the decline in vitamin B12 levels and the increasing prevalence of tinnitus in the elderly. A study by Shemesh et al. (1993) showed that there was a high prevalence (47%) of vitamin B12 deficiency in patients with chronic tinnitus. This deficiency was more widespread and severe in the tinnitus group that was associated with noise exposure, suggesting a relationship between vitamin B12 deficiency and dysfunction of the auditory pathway. Supplemental cobalamin was found to provide some relief in several patients with severe tinnitus.

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