Have you ever been in a bad mood until one of your favorite songs begins to play on the radio? Or until you picked up the phone to hear the familiar voice of a loved one? Do the peaceful sounds of nature lift your spirits? Dopamine, a hormone that functions as a neurotransmitter in the human body, is responsible for your elevated mood. It is also the subject of a new study by the National Institutes of Health exploring how this simple chemical reaction in the brain can affect hearing health.
Dopamine is linked to the brain’s system of motivation and reward. It helps to regulate mood, sleep, behavior, and cognition, and it also stimulates the heart, circulation, and metabolism. Because dopamine helps the body function smoothly, its decreased amounts have been linked to schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease, affecting one’s motor skills and speech.
Although we hear with our ears, we need our brains to interpret the sounds. Advanced age and noise exposure can cause sensorineural hearing loss, in which there is damage to the auditory nerve’s pathway for transmitting sounds from the cochlea to the brain’s auditory center. Though hearing aids and cochlear implants can help, there is no cure for this condition. Previous research also proves that dopamine is essential to maintaining the health of auditory nerve neurons and the way they respond to sound stimulation.
We already know that hearing health affects the overall quality of life and that untreated hearing loss can lead to a variety of other health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and social isolation, as well as the progression of such diseases as dementia and Alzheimer’s. In particular, music therapy stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin, and it has been effective with dementia and Parkinson’s disease patients. This popular video from Music and Memory features Henry, an elderly man who is slumped in his chair until he begins to listen to some music through a pair of earphones. Henry then comes alive and begins to hum along with the music. Afterward, he is able to answer questions and sing a few bars of his favorites, reengaging with the world around him.
You can enhance your body’s ability to generate dopamine by getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, eliminating foods high in sugar, fat, and cholesterol, and adding such dopamine-producing foods as bananas, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet. You can also schedule a baseline hearing evaluation with your local AudigyCertified™ audiologist to determine whether you have a hearing loss and what your options are for better hearing and better health.