Research suggests that in the US, one in eight men and others with male reproductive systems will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. This means that the disease, which impacts the prostate gland (the part of the body that produces seminal fluid for sperm), is one of the most common cancers for people with male reproductive systems in the US.
The treatment for prostate cancer can be intense. It can involve surgery and radiation therapy, for example, and this can leave patients dealing with issues like erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and other uncomfortable side effects. But according to new research, a plant-based diet may help improve these symptoms.
The new study, which was conducted by the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Publica Health, analyzed more than 3,500 men with prostate cancer.
The data was obtained from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which is focused on the way that nutrition influences disease. The study, which is still ongoing and started in 1986, involves more than 50,000 (mostly white) male medical professionals, including dentists, pharmacists, and osteopaths.
The researchers found that the patients in their sample who consumed the most fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts, with less meat and dairy, scored 8- to 11-percent higher in terms of sexual function.
“These results add to the long list of health and environmental benefits of eating more plants and fewer animal products. They also clearly challenge the historical misconception that eating meat boosts sexual function in men, when in fact the opposite seems to be the case,” the study’s authors stated.
They also scored 14-percent higher in terms of urinary health and suffered fewer instances of incontinence, obstruction, and irritation. In addition to this, the hormonal health of plant-based patients seemed to improve by 13 percent.
“Our findings offer hope for those looking for ways to improve their quality of life after undergoing surgery, radiation, and other common therapies for prostate cancer, which can cause significant side effects,” said study lead author and urologist Stacy Loeb, MD, in a statement.
“Adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, while reducing meat and dairy, is a simple step that patients can take,” she continued.
This study follows separate research in April 2023, which also noted that a plant-forward diet may help to prevent and manage prostatic hyperplasia, erectile dysfunction, and prostate cancer.
Plant-based diets and prostate cancer
A plant-based diet isn’t just linked with improving life after prostate cancer treatment. It’s also linked with reducing the risk of developing the disease completely.
Like with most types of cancer, there is no way to eliminate the risk of developing prostate cancer. But studies show that eating a diet rich in whole foods, cutting down on animal products, and exercising regularly could reduce the risk.
For example, one study, published in the Journal of Urology in 2021, examined more than 47,200 males for nearly three decades and found that higher consumption of plant-based foods was associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer in people with male reproductive systems under the age of 65.
A plant-based diet may also reduce the severity of the disease, research suggests. Another study, published in February 2023, noted that a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables could reduce the progression of prostate cancer and the likelihood that it will return. Again, regular exercise was also important.
“This study indicates that plant-based dietary patterns are associated with lower risk of [prostate cancer (PC)] progression and recurrence, particularly among older men and those who reported a higher intensity walking pace,” the study stated. “PC survivors may be recommended diet and exercise counseling to improve clinical outcomes after PC diagnosis.”
A growing body of evidence has also linked animal products with an increased risk of prostate cancer. In April 2023, for example, one study, which was published in the journal BJU International and assessed the diets of more than 15,290 Spanish men, suggested that a diet rich in high-fat dairy and processed meat could increase the risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer.
“Our results indicate that avoiding unhealthy dietary habits could be the best nutritional strategy to prevent aggressive prostate cancer,” lead author Adela Castelló-Pastor, PhD, said at the time.