The 2009 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation Annual Meeting & OTO EXPO, held this year in San Diego, was the site of a presentation of research conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston which found a protective effect for the B vitamin folate against the development of hearing loss in older men.*
For their research, Josef Shargorodsky, MD and his colleagues analyzed data from 26,273 male dentists, optometrists, osteopaths, pharmacists, podiatrists, and veterinarians who were 40-75 years of age upon enrollment in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study in 1986. Health and dietary questionnaires completed every two years were analyzed for the intake levels of several vitamins, including folate. Questionnaires completed in 2004 obtained information on hearing loss diagnosed since the beginning of the study.
Over the course of the follow-up, 3,559 men developed hearing loss. Although no association was noted between the condition and other vitamin intake, men over 60 whose intake of folate from food and supplements was among the highest 20% of participants had a 21% reduction in the risk of developing hearing loss compared with those in the lowest fifth. The intake of alcohol, which can impede the bioavailability of folate, did not impact the relationship observed between folate intake and hearing loss, however, men whose alcohol intake was highest had a reduced risk of hearing loss with greater vitamin B12 intake.
The investigation is the first large epidemiologic study to prospectively examine the relation between diet and hearing loss. “The association between folate intake and incident hearing loss in our cohort is consistent with previous data showing that folic acid supplementation slowed the decline in low frequency hearing in older adults,” the authors write.
“A possible explanation for the impact of age on the relation between folate intake and hearing loss is the increased prevalence of folate malabsorption and folate depletion in the older age group. Higher folic acid intake may be necessary to meet the optimal folate needs in this age group.”