We’ve all experienced the warm, fuzzy feeling of a dopamine boost after working out, listening to a favorite song, taking a bite of dark chocolate or receiving a sweet message from a loved one. This neurotransmitter, used as a hormone in the body, can help to elevate your mood and counteract depression — but it may also help you hear better.
How is dopamine connected to our hearing?
We hear with our ears, but also with our brains, which is why dopamine–a neurotransmitter that our brain produces to help us stay focused and motivated–could potentially affect the way our hearing functions. Dopamine has already been shown to improve memory, but now there is evidence that this neurotransmitter is important to our hearing as well.
So how does hearing happen in the brain? The auditory nerve sends sound signals from the cochlea to the auditory center of the brain, where they are processed and become decipherable. But if this pathway becomes damaged, a person can develop sensorineural hearing loss, the most common type. Typically caused by aging and noise exposure, sensorineural hearing loss cannot be cured, but it can be effectively treated with hearing aids and cochlear implants.
French researchers examined the link between the dopamine transporter, a protein that moves dopamine to nerve synapses, and the auditory nerve. Their conclusion was that dopamine is in fact vital in maintaining the healthy functioning of the auditory nerve and the way it processes sound signals. The study was published in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Hearing can be therapeutic
It is well known among hearing health professionals that untreated hearing loss can lead to an abundance of other health issues, including depression, isolation and reduced mobility. Conversely, treating hearing loss with hearing aids has been shown to improve people’s quality of life as they age and help to protect against these problems. The sense of hearing is also vital in slowing the progression of certain diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Music therapy has proven beneficial in treating patients with Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia, because of its ability to increase the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Dan Cohen, once a social worker, now devotes his time to his “Music and Memory” program, which emphasizes the strong connection between music and the mind.
In his short YouTube video, you can see “Henry”, an elderly Alzheimer’s patient who can hardly speak, come to life after listening to some music through a pair of headphones. Henry is able to talk and answer questions even after the headphones come off, and even sings some of his favorite tunes.
Auditory stimuli can also help to boost dopamine levels in young people, according to a Canadian study. A McGill University-based research team measured brain activity in eight 19-24-year olds, as they listened to the music they had chosen. According to PET and MRI scans performed on the participants, dopamine levels increased six to nine percent.
How to safeguard your hearing health–and boost your dopamine
1. Exercise. Getting active can naturally increase your dopamine levels, and cardio workouts have the added benefit of improving your circulation. Both of these things have been proven to have a beneficial effect on hearing health. So, take a brisk walk, hit the treadmill or go for a swim. Your body–and your ears–will thank you.
2. Eat healthy. Foods that are high in sugar, fat and caffeine can definitely give you an instant dopamine rush, but these unhealthy snacks may actually disrupt your body’s dopamine production process in the long run. In order to make dopamine, your body requires foods that are rich in tyrosine such as turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy and legumes. Foods full of potassium, such as bananas, are particularly beneficial to the ears.
3. Start meditating. Meditation is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress, and less stress means more dopamine. Living with hearing loss, whether your own a loved one’s, can be stressful, and meditation is a good way to bring focus and calm back into your life.
4. Listen to music (safely). Listening to music is a proven way to elevate your dopamine levels and improve your mood. This increased dopamine can, in theory, help to protect the neurons and synapses in the auditory processing center of your brain. But if you make listening to music a part of your daily life, remember to listen conscientiously. Protect your ears from long-term hearing damage by listening at a reasonable volume and taking short ‘listening breaks’ to let your ears rest.
Visit Us at Hearing Consultants
There is no reason to live with untreated hearing loss. If you have experienced changes in your hearing abilities, schedule a hearing test with us at Hearing Consultants today!