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For Men with Prostate Cancer, Plant-Based Diets Linked to Better Sexual, Urinary Health: New Study

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Plant-based diets have been linked to a lower risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer; now, a new study suggests that they can improve quality of life for the millions of men living with the disease, by reducing erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and other common side effects. Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and NYU Grossman School of Medicine led the study, which was published last week in the journal Cancer.

To see what impact eating a plant-based diet might have on quality-of-life issues that often arise from prostate cancer and treatment, researchers analyzed data from more than 3,500 patients, sorting them into five groups based on the proportion of plant versus animal foods that they reported eating. To get a clearer understanding of cause and effect, the team adjusted for body mass index and other differences among participants that might influence the results.

When comparing the group that ate the most plants and the group that ate the least, the study found notable differences: The plant-rich group scored 8% to 11% better in measures of sexual function and 14% better for urinary health, with fewer instances of incontinence and irritation. They also scored up to 13% better in hormonal health, reporting greater energy levels, less depression, and fewer hot flashes.

Findings Offer Hope

“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,” says urologist Stacy Loeb, M.D., the lead author of the study. “Adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, while reducing meat and dairy, is a simple step that patients can take.” Loeb and her co-authors believe the study is the first of its kind to show improved urinary health in such patients based on diet.

The study leveraged data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a project that began in the 1980s and is still ongoing. As part of the project, men with prostate cancer periodically completed questionnaires about their diets as well as health issues.

Prostate cancer is very common; about 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. Most people who are diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. Early detection can significantly improve outcomes. The American Cancer Society recommends men talk to their doctors about screening beginning at 50 years old if they are at average risk. The ACS recommends that those at high risk—including African American men and men who have a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65—begin the conversation earlier, at 45. Some higher-risk patients should consider screening as early as 40. Learn more about screening recommendations here.

To learn more about a whole-food, plant-based diet, visit our Plant-Based Primer. For meal-planning support, check out Forks Meal Planner, FOK’s easy weekly meal-planning tool to keep you on a healthy plant-based path.

About the Author

Headshot of Courtney Davison

About the Author

Courtney Davison

Courtney Davison is Forks Over Knives’ managing editor. A writer and editor on a wide range of subjects, she co-wrote a nationally syndicated advice column from 2016 to 2018 and co-authored the 2018 book Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice from Dear Annie. She is a longtime vegan and in her free time enjoys trying new recipes and spending quality time with her cats. Find her on LinkedIn.
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