Chunks of chocolate to help prevent hearing loss.

Remember when you were a child and you’d get a piece of chocolate? Maybe it was spring and the snow was starting to melt and you just happened to get a little treat because your parents were in a good mood. You slowly unwrap that crinkling foil and inside is delicious, delicious chocolate. With a taste like that, it’s no wonder that chocolate is a staple of sweets and desserts around the world.

The surprising part is that chocolate may be good for you–at least in certain ways, as far as your ears are concerned.

That’s what some novel research out of Seoul, South Korea seems to suggest. According to the researchers’ findings, eating a fair amount of chocolate could prevent the development of hearing loss symptoms. What’s more, a “chocolate-based diet” may also keep those symptoms from getting worse over time.

So… Chocolate Is Good for You?

You’ll be forgiven for being immediately suspicious of these admittedly new findings. We’re taught from a very young age that most of the things that are good for us tend to taste unpleasant. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, fish oil–it’s all wonderful for us, but not exactly what we secretly binge on.

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy the taste of vegetables (roasted vegetables tend to pack a lot more flavor than boiled vegetables, so they’re much more in favor these days). It’s just that suspicion against anything tasty being nutritious is deeply ingrained.

But there are some good reasons to give this study a little more credibility than your typical headline-grabbing “bad thing is actually good for you” study:

  • First and foremost, this study was conducted on real live people (not mice; many published studies are conducted on mice, and the conclusions are not always a one-to-one match).
  • The sample size of this study was relatively large. Slightly over 3500 subjects were interviewed as part of this study.
  • Those subjects who ate sweets, but not chocolate-related sweets, did not see a correlational increase in hearing loss prevention. In other words, the researchers are fairly certain it’s the chocolate in the diet that’s doing good work here.
  • The severity of hearing loss seems to be inversely related to how much chocolate they ate.
  • There’s more than a 9 percent difference in hearing loss between the two groups–which is statistically significant.

So Chocolate Does Prevent Hearing Loss?

So, chocolate seems like it’s sort of good for you… and now your world is turning upside down, right? Should you run out and eat a whole bunch of chocolate? Well… you might want to finish reading this article first (it won’t take long, I promise).

The researchers behind this study attribute the lower relative diagnosis of hearing loss to the cocoa in chocolate. Cocoa, it turns out, has a few well-known health benefits–the chief of which is as an anti-inflammatory. Researchers point to this feature as the one most likely to prevent hearing loss. (Inflammation tends to exacerbate just about any underlying health issue, so minimizing it where possible is fantastic.)

Can I Go Buy That Chocolate Now?

There are, unfortunately, a few caveats. The first and most prominent is that this study has yet to be replicated in a reputable and well-publicized way. (In scientific circles, replication is the last great test of any new evidence.)

Second, and perhaps even more important: chocolate in the United States is not at all like chocolate in South Korea. Well, okay, the chocolate is similar, it’s just that in the U.S. we add insane amounts of sugar–and while that may be tasty, all that sugar tends to negate any of the nutritional benefits chocolate might have.

So we can’t expect the results of this South Korean study to necessarily inform our behavior where the chocolate tends to be sweeter.

So How Do I Protect My Hearing?

That doesn’t mean you can’t eat chocolate, of course–it just means that if you’re interested in protecting your hearing, chocolate is not going to be some kind of miracle cure. Your best bet is still going to be well-established methods:

  • Wearing hearing protection when necessary (ear muffs or ear plugs, for example).
  • Wearing hearing aids when deemed necessary by a hearing professional (this usually keeps hearing loss from progressing quickly).
  • Getting your ears checked regularly.

It’s true that, at some point, certain dietary choices (such as eating chocolate–which, again, we are pro-chocolate around here) could have some influence on whether hearing loss eventually develops.

But there’s absolutely nothing that works better than protecting your hearing in the first place–not even chocolate.

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