Contributed by Brande Plotnick, MS, MBA
Minerals play an important role in our overall health and proper body function. Calcium builds strong bones and teeth. Zinc is an important mineral for boosting the immune system. But what you may not know is that some minerals are critical elements for protecting your hearing health.
What are minerals?
Minerals are inorganic substances found in soils and rocks and are essential nutrients the body needs to survive and carry out daily functions and processes. We get minerals by eating plants that absorb them from the earth and by eating meat from animals that graze on plants.
There are lots of important minerals, but these few are crucial for preserving good hearing.
Potassium is responsible for regulating the amount of fluid in your blood and body tissue. That can be important to your hearing health because fluid in the inner ear, that part of the ear that translates the noises we hear into electrical impulses the brain interprets as sound, is dependent upon a rich supply of potassium. As we age, those levels naturally drop which could be a contributing factor for presbycusis — or age-related hearing loss.
An important hormone called aldosterol is partially responsible for regulating potassium, and research has linked a drop in aldosterol, common with aging, with hearing loss. While no direct link has been found that would justify taking potassium supplements to improve hearing health, eating foods containing potassium is beneficial to your overall health.
Potassium-rich foods include: potatoes, spinach, lima beans, tomatoes, raisins, apricots, bananas, melons, oranges, yogurt and milk. With springtime picnics marking the calendar, think about making your favorite potato salad or bring along a fruit salad with citrus and melons for tasty and potassium-rich side dishes.
Research conducted at the University of Michigan Kresge Hearing Research Institute has shown that people pretreated with magnesium (along with Vitamins A, C, and E) were protected from noise-related hearing loss. Scientists believe this is because magnesium combats the effects of free radicals emitted during loud noises — almost like a protective barrier for the delicate hair cells in the inner ear. Also, lack of adequate magnesium in the inner ear causes the blood vessels to shrink, depriving it of valuable oxygen.
Foods rich in magnesium include fruits and vegetables such as bananas, artichokes, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli. Spring is the perfect time for fresh artichokes. Cook them in boiling water 20-30 minutes and serve them with warmed butter or a cool dill yogurt dip. Bonus — the yogurt dip will provide potassium too!
Zinc boosts body’s immune system and is also responsible for cell growth and healing wounds, so it’s potentially helpful in warding off germs that cause the common cold and even pesky ear infections. Some studies suggest it’s also effective in treating tinnitus in individuals with normal hearing. Zinc does interact with antibiotics and diuretics though, so seek a physician’s advice before using supplements.
Foods rich in zinc include beef, pork and dark-meat chicken, cashews, almonds, peanuts, beans, split peas, lentils, oysters and dark chocolate. Try making homemade granola bars to get your fill of zinc. Nuts and dark chocolate work great as key ingredients, along with oats, popped quinoa, raisins, dried cranberries and coconut flakes. Honey and nut butters work well as binders. Search online to find recipes like this one from Love and Zest. Once you get comfortable with the process, tweak recipes to your liking.
With a balanced diet free of processed foods and that includes vitamins from whole foods, our bodies usually get enough minerals for our hearing health. Check with your physician before adding any supplements to your diet.
As always, if you think you may have hearing loss, seek the advice of a local hearing healthcare professional for a full hearing evaluation.