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Plant-based diet tied to improved sexual health in men treated for prostate cancer

Adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, while reducing meat and dairy, is a simple step that patients can take.

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A diet that limits meat and dairy but is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts is linked to less erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and other common side effects seen in prostate cancer patients.

This is according to a new study – “Plant‐based diet associated with better quality of life in prostate cancer survivors” – that appeared in the journal Cancer.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the analysis of more than 3,500 men with prostate cancer explored whether eating a more plant-based diet was associated with quality-of-life issues that often arise after treatment. The patients were sorted into five groups (quintiles) based on the proportion of plant versus animal foods the men said they eat.

The researchers found that:

  • the quintile that consumed the most plants scored 8% to 11% better in measures of sexual function compared with the group that consumed the least
  • up to 14% better scores for urinary health, with fewer instances of incontinence, obstruction, and irritation
  • up to 13% better scores in hormonal health (which assesses symptoms like low energy, depression, and hot flashes) among the highest quintile of plant-based diet compared with the lowest

“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 Loeb. “Adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, while reducing meat and dairy, is a simple step that patients can take,” added Loeb, a professor in the Departments of Urology and Population Health at NYU Langone Health.

Prostate cancer is among the most common and deadliest forms of cancer among men, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previous research by the same team already found that eating a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of developing the disease in the first place. Other investigations have connected this diet to a lower risk of sexual dysfunction in general but not specifically for those with prostate cancer, who are at particularly high risk for such issues.

“These results add to the long list of health and environmental benefits of eating more plants and fewer animal products,” said Loeb. “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.”

In addition to Loeb, other investigators involved in the study are Qi Hua, MSc; Alaina Shreves, MS; and Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, at Harvard Chan School in Boston. Scott Bauer, MD, ScM; Stacey Kenfield, ScD; June Chan, ScD; and Erin Van Blarigan, ScD, at the University of California, San Francisco; and Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Lorelei Mucci, MPH, ScD, at Harvard Chan School, served as study senior author.

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