Hearing loss is the most common sensory disorder in the United States, and more than 36 million Americans have lost some of their hearing. Mostly, hearing loss is blamed on getting older. But evidence is accumulating that the real culprit could be a lack of B vitamins — especially folate.
For example, in 2007 scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands studied 728 men and women between the ages of 50 and 70 and found that by taking folic acid supplements, age-related hearing loss in the low frequency range was significantly delayed. Then, at last year’s American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) Annual Meeting in San Diego, a Boston-based research team discussed evidence showing that when men over the age of 60 had a high folate intake from foods and/or vitamins, they decreased their risk of losing their hearing by 20%.
Now a new study, dubbed the Blue Mountains Hearing Study and headed by scientists at the University of Sydney in Australia, has revealed yet another important link between folate and hearing. The researchers found that when people have low levels of the B vitamin in their blood, they have a significantly increased risk of hearing loss. The research was recently published in The Journal of Nutrition.
The study, which involved researchers from several Australian universities, looked at 2,956 people age 50 and up. Blood levels of vitamin B-12, folate and homocysteine were measured and then compared to the amount of hearing loss in the research subjects. The results? People with low levels of folate (below 11 nanomoles per liter) had a 34% increased risk of hearing loss.
What’s more, elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine (over 20 micromoles per liter) were linked to a 64% increase in the risk of hearing loss. Excess levels of homocysteine have previously been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and memory problems. Too much homocysteine is also believed to disrupt normal blood flow to the inner ear — which could possibly explain the homocysteine and hearing loss connection. And a body of earlier research has concluded adequate B vitamin levels are associated with normal homocysteine levels in the blood.
We have previously reported on other ways folate is important to maintaining and protecting health. For example, studies show it may protect from breast cancer (Related: A folate deficiency puts you at risk of several diseases, research finds) and help prevent memory loss, too (9 Incredible Health Benefits of Folate).
S. L. Baker
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