Plant-Based Diet May Be Linked to Improved Sexual Health in Men Treated for Prostate Cancer

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Plant-based diets may be linked to a lower risk of erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and other common side effects experienced by patients receiving treatment for prostate cancer, according to a new study published by Loeb et al in Cancer. The findings indicated that nutrition may lead to better urinary health in this patient population.


Prostate cancer is one the most common and deadliest types of cancers among male patients in the United States.

Plant-based diets involve limiting meat and dairy but consuming high amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. Previous studies have determined that following this diet could lower the risk of sexual dysfunction in general but have not identified whether the diet specifically decreases this risk among patients with prostate cancer—who already are at a higher risk of complications related to sexual function. The diet may further reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer in the first place.

Study Methods and Results

In the new study, investigators used the Health Professional Follow-up Study to analyze a data set composed of information on more than 50,000 male dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, osteopaths, podiatrists, and veterinarians.

The project was designed to better understand how nutrition might influence risks related to serious diseases—including cancer and cardiovascular disease—and asked patients with prostate cancer to complete a questionnaire every 4 years about the kinds of foods they ate and in what proportions. Another survey, which was administered every 2 years, assessed the frequency of incontinence, difficulties maintaining an erection, and problems with bowels, energy, and mood alongside many other health concerns.

The investigators identified 3,500 patients with prostate cancer and explored whether eating a more plant-based diet improved treatment-related quality-of-life issues. While assessing the correlation between plant-based diets and health, the investigators took into account weight, physical activity, and many other factors that could affect their quality of life. The investigators noted that 83% of the patients had received prostate cancer treatment and all of those included in the current study had early disease that had not yet metastasized to other organs. The patients were then categorized into five groups based on the proportion of plant vs animal foods they consumed.

The investigators found that the patients who consumed the highest proportion of plant foods scored 8% to 11% better in measures of sexual function and up to 14% better in measures of urinary health compared with those who consumed the lowest proportion of plant foods. The patients who consumed the most plant foods also experienced fewer instances of incontinence, obstructions, and irritation.

Additionally, consuming high amounts of any plant-based food was linked to better sexual health, urinary health, and vitality scores, regardless of demographic factors, lifestyle differences, or comorbidities such as diabetes. Eating more healthy plant-based food was also associated with increased bowel function, which may be explained by the dietary fiber found in plants.


Despite the positive findings, the investigators cautioned that the patients involved in the study were predominantly White health-care professionals. As a result, they plan to expand their research to include a more diverse group of patients with more advanced stages of prostate 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. 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,” underscored lead study author Stacy Loeb, MD, Professor in the Department of Urology and Population Health and a urologist at New York University (NYU) Langone Health. “Adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet, while reducing meat and dairy, is a simple step that patients can take,” she concluded.

Disclosure: The research in this study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the New York Department of Health, Tricia and Michael Berns, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.