The red meat diet associated with masculinity could be the worst thing for men dealing with prostate cancer, a new study says.

Prostate cancer patients who limit meat and dairy but eat lots of plant-based foods tend to suffer less erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence and other embarrassing side effects associated with their treatment, researchers say.

Men who ate the most plant-based foods scored 8% to 11% better in measures of sexual function compared to those who ate the least, according to results from more than 3,500 prostate cancer patients.

The men also scored up to 14% better in urinary health, with fewer instances of incontinence, obstruction and irritation, results show.

A plant-based diet also produced 13% better scores in hormonal health, which involves symptoms like low energy, depression and hot flashes.

“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,” lead researcher Dr. Stacy Loeb, a professor of urology and population health at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City, said in a news release.

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

Previous research by the same team found that eating a plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts reduces a man’s overall risk of developing prostate cancer.

For this study, men with prostate cancer filled out a diet questionnaire every four years. Another survey administered every two years tracked their health problems.

More than 4 in 5 patients (83%) had received prostate cancer treatment, Loeb said. Those included in this study all had early forms of the disease that hadn’t spread to other organs.

Researchers found that eating more plant-based foods produced sexual, urinary and vitality benefits for men regardless of other factors like financial status, lifestyle and medical history.

Eating more plant-based foods also was associated with better bowel function, likely owing to the amount of dietary fiber in plants, Loeb said.

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

The new study was published online Feb. 13 in the journal Cancer.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about becoming a vegetarian.

SOURCE: NYU Grossman School of Medicine, news release, Feb. 13, 2024

What This Means For You

Men can improve their sexual function and overall health by including more plant-based foods in their daily diets.