A new study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital explored the link between women with osteoporosis or low bone density (LBD) and an increased risk of hearing loss. According to their findings, women with osteoporosis or LBD were 40% more likely to experience moderate or severe hearing loss.
“Adult onset hearing loss is typically irreversible; therefore, the [Conservation of Hearing Study] focuses on identifying potentially modifiable risk factors that may contribute to hearing loss,” said researcher Dr. Sharon Curhan.
“We were inspired by a recent study that found bisphosphonates may help prevent noise-induced hearing damage in mice. We wanted to investigate whether bisphosphonates alter risk of hearing loss in adults, in addition to whether there is a longitudinal association between osteoporosis or LBD and risk of subsequent hearing loss.”
The link between bone health and hearing loss
To understand how bone health can impact hearing loss in women, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 144,000 participants enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study I and II and the Conservation of Hearing Study (CHEARS). Participants completed questionnaires that measured their hearing function every two years, and the researchers also monitored their bone health over more than three decades.
Ultimately, it was clear that osteoporosis and LBD increased the risk of hearing loss; the additional risk was as high as 40% for women with bone health issues, and that risk remained regardless of whether or not the participants took bisphosphonates to improve bone health.
The researchers also learned that the risk of hearing loss differed depending on where in the body the bone issues were. The team found that vertebrae injuries were linked with an even higher risk of long-term hearing loss.
“The different findings between these skeletal sites may reflect differences in the composition and metabolism of the bones in the spine and in the hip,” said Dr. Curhan. “These findings could provide new insight into the changes in the bone that surrounds the middle and inner ear that may contribute to hearing loss.”
While it remains unclear why the link between bone health and hearing loss exists, the researchers plan to do more work in this area to better understand how consumers’ lifestyles can impact their health long-term.
“Osteoporosis and low bone density may be important contributors to aging-related hearing loss,” said Dr. Curhan. “Building lifelong healthy diet and lifestyle habits could provide important benefits for protecting bone and hearing health in the future.”