How What You Eat may be Connected to Diabetes and Hearing Loss

When studying the five communities originally associated with the blue zones, diet quickly emerged as an important connection to a longer, healthier life. Surprisingly, diet also can play a key role for someone with hearing loss. How is it possible that what you eat is connected to how well you hear?

One answer is diabetes. This is probably one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States that can impact the ability to hear. In fact, diabetes and hearing loss are two of the most common health problems that affect the American population. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 37.5 million Americans 18 and over have problems hearing; and according to the Centers for Disease Control, 37.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes.

Hearing loss most often occurs as you age or if you are exposed to loud noises, but diabetes can put you at risk for hearing loss, too. Though the actual disease process isn’t clear, it’s thought that over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Low blood sugar can damage how the nerve signals travel from the inner ear to the brain. Both types of nerve damage can lead to hearing loss.

Hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes as it is in people of the same age who don’t. Even people with prediabetes (blood sugar levels higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as having type 2 diabetes) have a 30% higher rate of hearing loss than people with normal blood sugar levels.

But in the blue zones, diabetes is rare. Researchers found individuals in these communities share some common eating habits that may contribute to their lack of disease and improved longevity, including:

  • They’re mindful of how they feel and eat until they are about 80 percent full.
  • Their diets are 95 to 100 percent plant-based, and include plenty of beans and nuts along with fruits and vegetables.
  • They follow a diet composed of approximately 65 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent fats, and 15 percent proteins, though the carbohydrates don’t come from leavened breads.

A diet high in fiber, such as those consumed in the blue zones, is also associated with regulation of blood sugar. An umbrella review published in Nutrients found that the high-fiber content of plants and whole foods could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Selecting more plant-based foods and fewer animal foods, snacking on nuts, and consuming a diet higher in fiber also can reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, some cancers, can help with weight loss, improve gut bacteria, and may improve longevity.

Plus, lowering the risk for diabetes also reduces the risk for hearing loss. If you already have diabetes, it’s important to make healthy diet changes, like those followed in blue zones, and monitor the condition closely to be sure it’s well-controlled.

The American Diabetes Association suggests:

  • Keeping your blood sugar as close to your target levels as possible.
  • Getting your hearing and vision checked every year.
  • Avoiding other causes of hearing loss, including loud noises.
  • Asking your doctor whether any medicines you’re taking can damage your hearing and what other options are available.

There are many reasons to keep your blood sugar in your target range and your diabetes under control—protecting your hearing is just one of them.

Remember, you should have your hearing checked by a hearing healthcare professional, such as a doctoral-level audiologist, when you are first diagnosed with diabetes and every year thereafter, according to the American Diabetes Association. This provides you with a baseline hearing evaluation. Regular subsequent evaluations can detect a hearing loss at its earliest stages.

Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.

Want to learn more about blue zones and what the world’s longest-lived populations do to reach the century mark? Watch Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, on Netflix. If you’d like to learn more, read Dan Buettner’s updated book The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons From the Healthiest Places on Earth.