Plant-Based Diet May Boost Quality of Life After Prostate Cancer

Patients with prostate cancer may have a better quality of life after starting a plant-based diet.

Patients with prostate cancer may experience fewer sexual and urinary side effects if they take on a plant-based diet, according to recent research published in the journal, Cancer.

“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,” study lead author and urologist Dr. Stacy Loeb, professor in the departments of urology and population health at NYU Langone Health, said in a press release about the findings.

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

The study included 3,505 individuals with non-metastatic prostate cancer who filled out food-frequency questionnaires and had their quality of life calculated by the Expanded Prostate Cancer Index Composite, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a 15-item questionnaire that measures urinary incontinence, urinary irritation, as well as bowel, sexual and hormonal health-related quality of life.

READ MORE: ‘Bring It Back to the Patients’ With Focus on Quality of Life in Prostate Cancer

Of note, nearly half (48%) of participants underwent radical prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate gland and surrounding lymph nodes), and 35% received radiation as their primary form of therapy. Eighty-three percent received prostate cancer treatment of any kind. The median time from diagnosis and treatment to the quality-of-life questionnaire was seven years.

After gathering data, the researchers then divided patients into five groups, based on those who ate the least to the most plants.

Findings showed that the groups that scored highest for a plant-based diet (which is limited in meat and dairy but includes many fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts) had up to 14% better scores for urinary health, including fewer instances of incontinence (loss of bladder control), obstruction and irritation. The higher plant-based diet group also had lower rates of erectile dysfunction, which, according to the study authors, aligns with prior findings in men without cancer.

“Our findings of better erectile function with increasing consumption of healthy plant‐based food are consistent with previous studies of men without prostate cancer,” they wrote. “For example, in men from the [Health Professionals Follow-Up Study] aged 60 to 70 years without prostate cancer, greater consumption of plant‐based food was associated with a lower risk of incident erectile dysfunction.”

“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,” Loeb said in the release.

The highest plant-based group also had a 13% better score regarding hormonal health, which evaluates items such as energy, depression and hot flashes.

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

The study findings took into account other patient characteristics, such as weight, physical activity, demographic factors, lifestyle differences and other medical issues, and still the group that had the highest score for a plant-based diet tended to rank higher on quality-of-life issues.

One limitation of the study, however, was the study population. The researchers collected their data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which is an ongoing study used to examine the relationship between diet and cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses. Individuals enrolled in the study are health care professionals, and most individuals involved in this recent data analysis were doctors who identified as White. As a result, Loeb and colleagues hope to expand their research to a more diverse group, as well as those with more advanced disease, according to the press release.

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