They’re great on toast, but can sardines really help with hearing loss?

There is good news for lovers of oily fish, as scientists find yet another health benefit of eating the food regularly.

A diet that’s rich in oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel and salmon, could help to prevent age-related hearing loss, according to a new scientific study.

Researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada studied more than 100,000 people aged between 40 and 69 over a three-year period and found that those with a higher intake of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA are less likely to have problems with their hearing than those with lower levels.

Fresh sardines, lemon and salt on kitchenCredit: Shutterstock / Civil

Other health benefits of oily fish are already well known: foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are a good source of vitamin D and could help to prevent heart disease. Current NHS guidelines recommend that we eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish.

Fish, particularly oily fish such as sardines, pilchards, salmon, trout, mackerel and  herring are good sources of DHA, which is part of the omega-3 family

Hearing loss affects 40% of over 50s

More than 20% of people live with hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization, a figure that rises to more than 40% over the age of 50.

Singer, Rick Astley, was recently diagnosed with hearing loss at age 57. He’s teamed up with Specsavers, recording a new version of his big hit Never Gonna Give You Up, to raise awareness about hearing loss.

“I’m pleased to be raising awareness of hearing loss, as there is still a stigma around this,” he said.

Losing your hearing may be a gradual process and it’s not always easy to tell if you’re affected, but you might notice that you can’t always hear people talking, particularly in a crowd, you’re asking them to repeat themselves, you can’t hear phone calls properly and feel you need to turn the TV or music volume up. You might also feel stressed or tired from having to concentrate while trying to listen.

Listening to loud music or working in a noisy environment can contribute to hearing loss and it can happen over time as you age, but when it comes to preventative measures the study gives hope.  Dr Michael McBurney, senior scientist at the Fatty Acid Research Institute in Ontario, said:

“There is evidence from animal models that omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), play a role in the development of the auditory system and cochlear function and maintenance.”

McBurney said more research is needed to examine the exact mechanism of how omega-3 fatty acids affect cochlear function, but the study gives more weight to the health benefits of eating oily fish.

Gordon Harrison, chief audiologist at Specsavers:

“Hearing loss affects people of all ages and, unfortunately, the longer we leave hearing issues, the worse they can become. That’s why it is so important to look after your hearing, by wearing hearing protection when exposed to excessive noise, as well as having regular hearing checks, which can help identify and manage hearing loss symptoms more effectively and minimise their long-term impact.

“I would always recommend wearing hearing protection when you think your hearing may be affected. The general rule is, the higher the volume, the less time you should be exposed to it.

“Everyone’s hearing is different. Age-related hearing loss is the most common, but we’re seeing more noise-induced impairment. If you have any concerns about your hearing, don’t wait any longer. ”

Consultant dietitian at CityDietitians Sophie Medlin told Saga Exceptional: “This research gives us insight into the additional benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, although we’ve known for a long time that there are huge health benefits of consuming oily fish or taking an appropriate supplement. The more we learn about omega-3s and the way they work in our bodies, the more we can understand the importance of them and the role they play in different conditions of ageing and decline.

“Oily fish has a massive anti-inflammatory benefit, as well as supporting our cardiovascular health and helping to prevent Alzhieimer’s and dementia, as omega-3 fatty acids are important in preventing cognitive decline.

“Omega-3 fatty acids include EPA, which is important for our vascular systems, preventing strokes, heart attacks and plaque build-up, and DHA, mentioned in the study, plays a crucial role in our brain health.

“When we don’t have enough oily fish in our diet or take an appropriate omega-3 supplement, our body becomes more pro-inflammatory and we’re understanding more about how inflammation plays a role in many conditions including diabetes.”

Although Medlin tries to eat three portions of oily fish a week, including sardines, mackerel and pilchards, she warns that most people throw away a vital part of salmon.

“With salmon, it’s only the dark part that’s really rich in omega-3s and lots of people won’t consume that. So they’ll think: ‘I’m having sushi three times a week, so I’m fine’ when they really need to be eating that dark part that’s directly under the skin,” she said.

“And it’s really important if people are considering a supplement that they take one that’s either from algae or from fish oils. Check the label to make sure they contain EPA and DHA.”

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

  • twitter