Iron is one of the most crucial nutrients in the human body. It’s part of the hemoglobin in red blood cells and is required to capture oxygen from our lungs and deliver it to the rest of the body. Without sufficient iron, whether due to blood loss, disease, pregnancy, or an iron-deficient body, you may develop iron deficiency anemia, which can cause weakness, fatigue, a compromised immune system and many other ailments.
It’s clear that having the proper iron levels is a major factor in our general health, but iron deficiency doesn’t just put you at risk of feeling sick and tired all the time. A new study of over 300,000 men and women between the ages of 21 and 90 has shown a relationship between low iron and hearing loss.
Iron and Hearing
How can anemia cause hearing loss? The answer lies in the inner ear, or cochlea, and a condition known as sensorineural hearing loss. The inner part of the ear contains tiny nerve endings that change sounds into electric signals, which are then sent to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss causes damage to these nerve cells and often results in uncorrectable loss of sensitivity to high-pitched sounds, some sounds being too loud and others muffled, and other hearing problems.
Scientists think that iron deficiency anemia causes sensorineural hearing loss because of how it reduces your blood’s ability to transport oxygen. The part of the cochlea where sensorineural hearing loss occurs only has a single artery feeding it, and if it’s not provided with enough oxygen, the nerve cells can begin to die out. It’s also possible that the loss of iron results in reduced production of a substance called myelin, which helps nerves conduct chemical signals. A thinner myelin coating around the cochlear nerve may damage hearing.
Hearing loss in adults is associated with many adverse effects such as low overall health, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, stress and depression.
What can you do to Prevent This?
Because iron deficiency anemia is caused by low iron levels in your body, there are two ways to avoid it and ensure that you don’t experience sensorineural hearing loss.
The first way is to have a diet full of iron rich foods. There are two types of iron sources: heme iron, which you’ll find in meats, and non-heme iron, which comes from both animals and plants. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron.
Examples of Iron-rich Foods
Some of the best heme iron sources include beef and chicken liver, oysters, clams, cooked beef and sardines. Other good heme iron sources include ham, veal, salmon and tuna. You can find high amounts of nonheme iron in enriched cereals, potatoes, beans, squash and spinach.
Along with enriching your diet with iron, you can also help your body absorb more iron by changing up the other parts of your diet. For example, taking vitamin C sources like orange juice or broccoli along with iron-rich foods will encourage iron absorption. Meanwhile, you can also avoid eating calcium-rich foods alongside your iron-heavy foods, as calcium inhibits iron absorption.
The second way to potentially prevent iron deficiency anemia is to take iron supplements. Iron supplements are pills that contain up to a full day’s recommended intake of iron and are often prescribed by doctors to treat serious iron deficiency anemia that can’t be addressed by an iron-enriched diet. For example, pregnant women need more iron because of the growing fetus within them. Other patients may have problems with iron absorption, such as those with ADHD, or those taking medication which inhibits iron absorption.
Iron supplements should never be taken without a doctor’s approval – they are very toxic at high levels and can interact very strongly with other drugs. Even at normally prescribed levels, studies have shown that iron supplements can cause cell damage. Further evidence is needed that iron supplements are a safe and efficient way to deal with anemia or sensorineural hearing loss.
Please be aware that iron overload is more common than we know it. According to Dr. Mercola “adult men and post-menopausal women are at increased risk due to the fact they do not have monthly blood loss. He recommends you test your serum ferritin levels annually and make sure it is around 40 and 60 ng/m for adult men and and non-menstruating women.
The first step you should take in determining your need for extra iron intake is to get your iron levels tested by a medical professional. A doctor will be able to tell you whether you need to increase the iron-rich foods in your diet and, if necessary, prescribe iron supplements. Iron supplements should only be used as a last resort treatment, and only with your doctor’s guidance. They shouldn’t be used as part of a daily regimen to prevent anemia.