Prostate Cancer and the Plant-Based Diet

Susan S. Johnson

Some research suggests that people with early stage prostate cancer who switch to a plant-based diet can reduce their risk of advanced prostate cancer. Research also shows that a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of a prostate cancer diagnosis overall.

One in 8 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer throughout their life.

Though prostate cancer is a serious disease, some lifestyle changes, like switching to a plant-based diet, may improve outcomes and disease progression.

Here’s everything there is to know about plant-based diets, including how they can impact early stage prostate cancer and how they may be used alongside mainstream treatments for the disease.

A plant-based diet revolves around eating foods that come from plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans.

Some people who follow a plant-based diet abstain completely from eating animal products, like meat, eggs, honey, and dairy. This is known as a vegan diet.

Others choose to do a mostly plant-based diet, still consuming small amounts of animal products. For example, vegetarians may choose to eat eggs and dairy but not meat or seafood. Others elect to incorporate seafood into their diet plant-based diet.

Research suggests that healthy plant-based diets may be associated with some benefits for men with prostate cancer.

A study that included data on more than 47,000 men found that those under the age of 65 who had greater overall plant-based consumption had a significantly lower risk of fatal prostate cancer.

Some research shows plant-based diets may improve disease development risk as well. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a large U.S. study found that men following a vegan or strictly plant-based diet were 35 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer. However, only men who followed a strict vegan diet experienced these improved outcomes.

By lowering the PSA level, men diagnosed with low risk or early stage prostate cancer can decrease their need for more aggressive treatment.

Plant-based diets with certain foods and beverages that contain compounds that have anticarcinogenic properties include:

  • cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower
  • allium vegetables such as onions and garlic
  • tomatoes
  • whole grains
  • green tea

Plant-based foods also have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects, which may be helpful in supporting the overall health of people with prostate cancer.

Eating an animal-based diet that includes a significant amount of red meat or processed meat and little poultry either before or after a prostate cancer diagnosis are associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality, according to a 2020 study.

Plant-based diets were found to be cost-effective and also had the potential to treat comorbidities, like diabetes, coronary artery disease, and hypertension.

So far, studies specific to prostate cancer research show no serious health risk for consuming plant-based diets, regardless of age group. However, if you have difficulty putting on weight, a plant-based diet may not provide enough substantial calories.

Unintentional weight loss, as sometimes results from cancer treatment, can make recovery more challenging. Significant weight loss may lead to fatigue, weakness, and lowered immunity. It’s important to speak to your doctor before making any major dietary or lifestyle changes.

Prostate cancer can be treated through a number of mainstream approaches. The type of treatment your doctor recommends will ultimately depend on your health and disease progression.

Prostate cancer that hasn’t spread outside of the prostate gland can be removed by surgery. This is a common choice if your doctor determines you have a more serious form of the disease.

Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, cryotherapy, and immunotherapy can also be used to slow, extinguish, or treat prostate cancer.

For prostate cancer that has spread to the bones or more serious forms of the disease, the main goal then becomes controlling pain and complications. Drugs that relieve bone pain, such as bisphosphonates or corticosteroids, may be considered.

While several studies have suggested that plant-based diets may be beneficial for those who have prostate cancer, more research is needed, particularly for older men.

Favorable outcomes have been identified for men under the age of 65 who consume plant-based diets. For men ages 65 and up, studies on the impact of plant-based eating on prostate cancer risk, progression, and outcome have been mostly inconclusive.

Consuming a plant-based diet, whether entirely vegan or vegetarian, may have some health benefits for people with prostate cancer.

While a healthy diet paired with exercise, stress reduction, and other positive lifestyle changes can be beneficial for your overall health, plant-based diets in particular may help reduce prostate cancer progression and create more favorable outcomes.

On the other hand, plant-based diets, especially restrictive ones like a vegan diet, aren’t appropriate for all people with prostate cancer or for all people trying to reduce their risk of prostate cancer.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer, talk with your doctor about plant-based diets and whether they can be a helpful part of your overall care plan.

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