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As you probably know by now, and especially if you’ve read this article or watched this video, iron is extremely important to both physical and mental well-being. Now, researchers have discovered that iron is also important for protecting us against hearing loss.
The purpose of the study, which was published in the December 29, 2016 edition of the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, was to evaluate the association between sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), conductive hearing loss (CHL) and iron deficiency anemia (IDA). The researchers concluded that there was indeed a link.
“Iron deficiency anemia was associated with SNHL and combined hearing loss in a population of adult patients. Further research is needed to better understand the potential links between IDA and hearing loss and whether screening and treatment of IDA in adults could have clinical implications in patients with hearing loss.”1
Types of Hearing Loss and Causes
The two major types of hearing loss are sensorineural and conductive. Below, I have listed a description of each as well as their common causes, to help you better understand their similarities and differences.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea), or the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Most of the time, SNHL cannot be medically or surgically corrected. SNHL is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.
- genetics, including, but not limited to, Otosclerosis
- exposure to loud noise
- autoimmune inner ear disease
- aging (Presbycusis)
- malformation of the inner ear
- Meniere’s Disease
Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted efficiently through the outer ear canal to the eardrum and the tiny bones of the inner ear, called ossicles. CHL usually causes a reduction in sound level or the ability to hear faint sounds.
- malformation of the outer ear, ear canal or middle ear structure
- fluid in the middle ear from colds
- ear infection
- poor Eustachian tube function
- perforated eardrum
- benign tumors
- impacted ear wax
- infection in the ear canal
- foreign body in the ear
How Can Nutrition Affect Hearing?
As you can see, the most common causes of both these hearing loss types are not generally linked to nutrition; however, a 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery demonstrated a link between hypertension and hearing loss, particularly for the male subjects.
“Our present study confirms that there is a possible association between hypertension and increase in hearing threshold. Patients with hypertension have greater increase in hearing threshold as compared to those without hypertension.”2
Hypertension (high blood pressure) has long been linked to poor nutrition. The #1 piece of advice mainstream and naturopathic doctors offer to patients with elevated blood pressure is to change their diet. And although there have been no studies specific to blood vessels of the inner ear, there was a study in 2006, called ‘The Cardiomyopathy of Iron Deficiency’, which proved severe iron deficiency could produce left ventricular dysfunction and even overt heart failure. So, clearly our vascular system, regardless of where the blood vessels are located, requires the mineral iron to function properly.
The actual mechanics of how hypertension itself may directly affect our hearing were also hypothesized by the author of the article ‘The Connection Between High Blood Pressure and Hearing Loss’.
“The link between high blood pressure and impaired hearing isn’t difficult to understand. When your blood pressure is high, your blood vessels are damaged. This damage isn’t centered in one area of the body – your entire body is affected, including your ears. And when the blood vessels in your ears are damaged – and have a fatty plaque buildup – your hearing could be impaired.”3
The Importance of Iron
Iron is extremely important to overall health and well-being. Hemoglobin, the substance that transports oxygen to every single cell in our bodies, is synthesized with iron. Iron is why our blood is red. Lack of iron means lack of oxygen for our cells. And clinical studies have shown that even a mild iron deficiency can hinder optimal functioning of the human body long before anemia develops. And although the authors of the 2016 study were not quick to jump to conclusions, they did suggest IDA as a possible cause for hearing loss in their study participants.
“Although the role of iron in the inner ear has not been clearly established, blood supply to this area is highly sensitive to ischemic damage. Sudden SNHL may have a vascular cause potentially exacerbated by IDA as described in a rat model of iron deficiency and sudden SNHL.”1
The older we get, the greater our chances of suffering hearing loss. The risk factors for earlier onset of adult hearing loss include, in addition to hypertension, diabetes, and tobacco use. All three of these factors impede and/or damages vascular function. So, we must keep all of these factors in mind as we age, to help us avoid hearing loss.
1 Kathleen M. Schieffer, BS; Cynthia H. Chuang, MD, MSc; James Connor, PhD, et al. “Association of Iron Deficiency Anemia With Hearing Loss in US Adults”. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, December 29, 2016. Web. January 2017
2 Agarwal, Saurabh, Mishra, Aseem, Jagade, Mohan, et al. “Effects of Hypertension on Hearing”. Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, February 17, 2013. Web. January 2017
3 “The Connection Between High Blood Pressure and Hearing Loss”. Ascent Audiology & Hearing, February 5, 2014. Web. January 2017
“Sensorineural Hearing Loss”. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, n.d. Web. January 2017
“Conductive Hearing Loss”. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), n.d. Web. January 2017
“Types, Causes and Treatment”. Hearing Loss Association of America, n.d. Web. January 2017
Carlson-Rink, Cathy, MD. “Iron Deficiency Should Be a Concern Prior to Anemia”. Needs.com, n.d. Web. January 2017
Hedge, Nikita, MD, Rich, Michael W, MD, and Gayomali, Charina, MD. “The Cardiomyopathy of Iron Deficiency”. Texas Heart Institute Journal, 2006. Web. January 2017