A person’s mood is a funny thing. We can wake up on the wrong side of the bed and be in a bad mood all day, or we can have a chance encounter that puts a smile on our face for hours to come. Even small things like a good song coming on the radio can lift our spirits.
In other words, moods are fickle, and we know that hearing loss significantly impacts upon our moods on a day-to-day basis – but recent research suggests that the opposite may be true as well.
It is well documented that untreated hearing loss can have a detrimental impact upon a person’s mood, resulting in a range of issues such as anxiety, depression and social isolation.
These issues can have a knock-on effect on a person’s loved ones, particularly due to frustration from communication issues. It can also lead to reduced performance at work. In fact, across the globe, loss of productivity due to premature retirement and unemployment for those with hearing loss was conservatively estimated by the World Health Organization to cost $105 billion (approximately £81 billion) a year. That does not include the cost of other issues relating to hearing loss such as healthcare, educational and societal costs.
The common strain of thought is that hearing loss affects a person’s mood – but what if it’s the other way around as well?
A recent study by Washington State University Vancouver is looking into the impacts of dopamine on hearing health.
Dopamine is released by the hypothalamus, acting as a neurotransmitter for use as a hormone by the human body. It helps to regulate mood, behaviour, sleep and cognition, and it is vital to the central nervous system, the heart, metabolism and circulation. Dopamine deficiencies have been linked to conditions such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.
So, what does dopamine have to do with hearing health?
The ability to hear comes not only from our ears, but also from the transmission of sounds to our brain, which interprets the noises around us. When the auditory nerve that is responsible for transmitting sounds gets damaged, sensorineural hearing loss develops. This is the type of hearing loss that most people are familiar with, as it is the most common type of hearing loss and often occurs gradually over time through aging and exposure to noise.
Following a May 2006 study, some researchers hypothesize that the dopamine transporter, which transports dopamine to nerve synopses, has an essential role in maintaining the health of auditory nerve neurons. Dopamine, the researchers say, can also affect the way these neurons respond to sound stimulation.
The Washington State University Vancouver study seeks to build upon these earlier findings, by considering how dopamine affects neural circuits, brain cells and synapses involved in auditory processing. Interestingly, these researchers will be studying the love songs that male mice sing to female mice. Who knew mice were so romantic?
The researchers anticipate that their findings will focus on how dopamine may alter the way neurons respond to particular sounds or voices. By studying the impact of these love songs on the auditory nerves of female mice with and without Parkinson’s disease, the researchers hope to make progress in understanding dopamine’s effects on auditory processing, and on hearing health generally.
As a neurotransmitter that can impact upon mood, it is thought that dopamine can be increased naturally with exercise and healthy eating. By exercising at least 30 minutes each day, sticking to a routine, reducing sugar intake and avoiding high levels of stress – essentially, living relatively healthily – dopamine levels can be increased naturally.
In addition, certain foods high in tyrosine can help boost dopamine levels. Such foods include, for instance, ripe bananas, almonds, eggs, yogurt and cherries. Generally, eating a well-rounded diet full of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains will go a long way to boosting dopamine levels overall.
As stated above, untreated hearing loss can significantly impact a person’s mood and overall quality of life. This can also have knock-on effects for that person’s loved ones.
If you think you may be experiencing hearing loss, don’t delay talking to a hearing instrument specialist. Our team is on hand to answer any questions you may have about your hearing health.
With five locations throughout Scotland, we provide convenience and experience to assist you in your path to good hearing health.
House of Hearing offers hearing care at five centres in Edinburgh, Galashiels, Perth, Morpeth and St Andrews. Call us on 0131 220 1220 for more information.