The high levels of omega-3 fats found in salmon, black cod, trout, sardines and other fish help benefit the heart, brain and possibly even joints. Now, denizens of the deep are generating new waves of health news: Recent findings suggest that enjoying more fish as part of a healthy diet may support hearing health in later years. This could offer hope for the half of Americans over 75 who suffer age-related hearing loss.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Blue Mountains Hearing Study followed 2,956 participants age 50 and over for five years. Significant findings: Folks who ate fish twice a week were 42% less likely to develop age-related hearing loss than those who consumed less than one weekly serving. Regular fish eaters who did develop some hearing loss experienced notably lower levels of impairment than those who ate fish less than once a week. Equally intriguing, taking fish oil supplements appeared to confer zero hearing-protective benefits. Researchers theorize that the omega-3 fats found in fish flesh nourish blood vessels that connect to our inner ears’ sensory organ of hearing — the cochlea — just like blood vessels in the heart do.

Other aspects for a healthy, well-rounded diet can also support hearing health. For example, Dutch scientists have linked a higher risk of hearing loss to low levels of folate – a B vitamin abundantly found in legumes (lentils, navy and pinto beans), leafy greens (spinach, collards, etc.), artichokes, beets and Brussels sprouts. Fruit and vegetables can also help with weight maintenance, which also may help protect against ear ailments.

 Published March 1, 2011