Are low DHA omega-3 levels linked to hearing difficulty?


Researchers shared findings from a cross-sectional population study at July’s Nutrition 2023 event, the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting.

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Middle-aged and older adults with lower plasma levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA may be more likely to report challenges with hearing. This was the finding of a new cross-sectional population analysis whose results were shared at Nutrition 2023, the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting, held July 22-25, 2023, in Boston, MA.

The researchers evaluated data from the UK Biobank, which is a biomedical database of genetic and health information on 502,639 adults in the UK aged 40-69 years. The data was collected between 2007 and 2010 through questionnaires, biological samples, and physical measurements.

For this analysis, the researchers were able to access both plasma DHA data and hearing data for between 71,368 and 115,303 individuals. Their goal was to look for cross-sectional associations of plasma omega-3 fatty acid DHA and self-reported hearing loss.

According to the researchers, 38% of 115,303 respondents reported difficulty hearing. Meanwhile, 26% of 113,134 people reported problems hearing with background noise, and 5% of 71,368 respondents reported that they used hearing aids.

In terms of DHA levels, the researchers found that people in the top quintile of DHA levels showed a lower risk of experiencing hearing loss, hearing difficulty, difficulty hearing with background noise, and hearing aid use compared to those in the bottom quintile. “Individuals in the top-DHA quintile were 8% to 20% less likely to report hearing issues (vs. lowest quintile),” they stated.

In an American Society for Nutrition press release, the study’s presenting author, Michael I. McBurney, PhD, warned that the findings of this cross-sectional population study should not be considered definitive. The researchers further advised, “Other cohorts should be explored to confirm the inverse association of plasma DHA with incident hearing loss, and the effects of increased DHA intakes on hearing metrics should be tested in randomized trials determining potential causal mechanisms.”

McBurney, who coauthored the paper with other researchers from the Fatty Acid Research Institute as well as from Harvard University, is a Fellow of the American Society for Nutrition and the Canadian Nutrition Society. He is a senior scientist with the Fatty Acid Research Institute and an adjunct professor in the Department of Human Health & Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, CA. He is also an adjunct professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Of the study, the press release states that “the findings add to a mounting body of evidence of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA in particular, to maintain health and help protect against aging-related declines in a variety of body functions.” It notes that “Omega-3s may help to protect the health of cells in the inner ear or mitigate inflammatory responses to loud noises, chemicals, or infections. Previous studies conducted in older adults and in animals have similarly suggested that higher omega-3 levels are inversely related to and may protect against age-related hearing loss.”

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