Consequences of Prostate Cancer Treatment

A cancer diagnosis is seen as a teachable moment in medicine where we can try to get people to eat healthier, but “research has suggested that male cancer patients may be reluctant to introduce dietary modification…This has been attributed to dietary modifications often being viewed as mimicking “feminine” eating behaviours, such as emphasizing an increase in fruit and vegetables.” 

As I discuss in my video Changing a Man’s Diet After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis, “[a]lthough healthy eating might enhance long-term survival, few men with prostate cancer make diet changes to advance their well-being.” Many of the cancer survival trials require adherence to strict plant-based diets, and though researchers tried providing extensive nutrition education and counseling programs, dietary adherence was still a challenge.

Apparently the way Dean Ornish was able to reverse the progression of prostate cancer with a plant-based diet was by home-delivering prepared meals to the subjects’ doors, figuring men are so lazy they’ll just eat whatever’s put in front of them. After all, male culture tends to encourage men to drink beer and eat convenience food and meat.

Take Men’s Health magazine, for example. Included in the list of things men should never apologize for were liking McDonald’s, not offering a vegetarian alternative, and laughing at people who eat trail mix. The magazine features articles with such titles as “Vegetables Are for Girls” and sections like “Men and Meat: There’s Only One Kind of Flesh We Like Better and Even Then She’d Better Know How to Grill.”

To appeal to male sensibilities, doctors are advised to use ‘body as machine’ metaphors, framing “men’s health in terms of mechanical objects, such as cars, requiring tuning.” But if men are so concerned about their masculinity and manhood, maybe we instead should share a bit about what prostate cancer treatment entails. The prostate is situated at the base of the penis, so when you core it out with a radical prostatectomy, you lose about an inch off your penis, if it gets erect at all. Only 16 percent of men undergoing the procedure will regain their pre-surgery level of erectile functioning.

Patients are typically quoted erectile dysfunction rates around 60 to 70 percent, but studies have generally considered erectile function recovery “as the ability to maintain an erection hard enough for penetration about 50% of the time…” So, occasionally being able to get an erection is considered recovery, but when a surgeon tells patients they will recover function, the patients probably assume that means the kind of function they had prior to surgery, which only happens 16 percent of the time and only 4 percent of the time in men over 60. Only 1 in 25 gets his baseline sexual function back.

Erections aren’t the only issue. Patients experience other problems like orgasm-associated pain even years later and urinary incontinence during foreplay, stimulation, or orgasm. The vast majority of couples overestimate how much function they’re going to recover. Couples reported feeling loss and grief. Having cancer is bad enough without the additional losses. You’d think that would be enough to motivate men to improve their diets, but almost a fourth of the men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer state they would prefer to have their lives cut short rather than live with a diet that prohibits beef and pork. More men would rather be impotent than improve their diet. It appears pleasures of the flesh may sometimes even trump pleasures of the flesh.


Did I say reverse the progression of cancer? See Cancer Reversal Through Diet? and my overview video How Not to Die from Cancer.

For more on prostate cancer prevention and survival, check out:

Interested in more information on maintaining male sexual function? See:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Best Foods for COPD and Peripheral Artery Disease

It’s great we can improve athletic performance by eating a few beets, but so what if you run 5% faster? It can be a fun experiment to eat a can of beets and maybe shave a minute off your 5k time, but there are people who could really benefit from a more efficient use of oxygen: those suffering from emphysema. Young, healthy adults eating greens and beets can swim, run, and cycle faster and farther, but what about those who get out of breath just walking up the stairs? Do nitrate-rich vegetables work where it counts? Yes–. Time on the treadmill in COPD pateints was significantly extended after two shots of beet juice. I discuss these benefits of nitrate-rich vegetables in my video Oxygenating Blood with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables.

Beet juice can also decrease blood pressure in young, healthy adults, but what about in those who need it––older, overweight subjects? Just one shot a day of beet juice (versus berry juice as a control) led to a significant drop in blood pressure in a few weeks. But within just a few days after stopping three weeks of beeting themselves up, blood pressure went back up. So we have to eat our vegetables and keep eating our vegetables.

Why did it take until 2015 to publish a study on using nitrates to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure? You’d think that’d be the first group to try it on. Who’s going to fund it, though—Big Beet? Blood pressure medications rake in more than $10 billion a year. You can’t make billions on beets.

But that’s why we have charities like the British Heart Foundation, which funded a study to give folks with high blood pressure a cup of beet juice a day for four weeks. After all, high blood pressure may be the number-one risk factor for premature death in the world. In ten years, it could affect nearly one in three adults on the planet. But put them on beet juice and blood pressures dropped and kept dropping until they stopped drinking it after a month. With so many people with high blood pressure even despite treatment, the researchers concluded, “an additional strategy, based on the intake of nitrate-rich vegetables, may prove to be both cost-effective, affordable, and favorable for a public health approach to hypertension.”

What about those with peripheral artery disease? There are tens of millions of people with atherosclerotic clogs impairing blood flow to their legs. This can cause a cramping pain in the calves called claudication, due to lack of blood flow through the blocked arteries, severely limiting one’s ability to even just walk around. But when they simply drink some beet juice, they can walk 18% longer. Researchers measured the actual oxygenation of blood within the calf muscle and found that patients were able to maintain more oxygen in their muscles after drinking beet juice.

The nitric oxide from vegetable nitrates not only improves oxygen efficiency but also oxygen delivery by vasodilating blood vessels—opening up arteries—so there’s more blood flow. I’m surprised beet juice companies aren’t trying to position themselves as veggie Viagra! It could certainly explain why those eating more veggies have such improved sexual function, though that study was a snapshot in time so technically you can’t tell whether eating veggies resulted in improved sexual function or improved sexual function led to eating more veggies. However, it seems more reasonable that low fruit and vegetable consumption contributes to erectile dysfunction, rather than the other way around.

What about the most important organ… the brain? Poor cerebral perfusion—lack of blood flow and oxygen in the brain––is associated with cognitive decline and dementia. Researchers showed that the nitrate in vegetables may be beneficial in treating age-related cognitive decline. They showed a direct effect of dietary nitrate on cerebral blood flow within the frontal lobes, the areas particularly compromised by aging. This is a critical brain area for so-called executive function, the basic task and problem solving important for day-to-day functioning. The nitrite from nitrate has been shown to not only increase blood flow to certain areas of the body but also to act preferentially in low oxygen conditions, allowing it to increase blood flow precisely in the areas where it is needed most, and that’s what they found in the brain: increased blood flow to the at-risk areas of the aging brain. The only side effect of beeting your brains out? A little extra color in your life (they noted some of the study subjects started peeing pink).


Nitrates are one of the reasons I recommend eating dark green leafy vegetables every day. See Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables and “Veg-Table” Dietary Nitrate Scoring Method. Beets are another good option and not just drinking the juice; take a look at Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance.

What else can we do for high blood pressure? See the following videos:

Why is blood flow to the brain so important? I go into depth on the potential consequences in Alzheimer’s and Atherosclerosis of the Brain.

More on diet and pelvic blood flow in men can be found in:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Foods that Affect Testosterone Levels

A number of studies suggest that exposure to industrial pollutants may affect sexual function, for example, loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, and impotence. This may be due to effects on testosterone levels. In a study of men who ate a lot of contaminated fish, an elevation in PCB levels in the blood was associated with a lower concentration of testosterone levels. These pollutants are found predominantly in fish, but also meat and dairy. The lowest levels are found in plants (see Dietary Pollutants May Affect Testosterone Levels).

Testosterone doesn’t just play a role in the determination of secondary sex characteristics like facial hair at puberty. It also regulates normal sexual functioning and the overall physical and psychological well-being of adult men. Abnormally low levels of testosterone can lead to decreased physical endurance and memory capacity, loss of libido, drop in sperm count, loss of bone density, obesity, and depression.

Endocrine-disrupting compounds that build up in fish may be able to mimic or block hormone receptors, or alter rates of synthesis or breakdown of sex steroid hormones. In children, these pollutants may actually impair sexual development. Boys who are exposed may grow up with smaller penises (although only by about two-thirds of an inch shorter at most). Researchers have tried exposing cells from aborted fetal human penises to these kinds of dietary pollutants, and gene expression related to genital development is indeed affected at real-life exposure levels. We’re not sure if the effects on penis length are due to the pro-estrogenic effects of the toxins, though, or the anti-testosterone effects.

You’ve heard of save the whales? Well, male reproductive organs may be at risk from environmental hazards as well.

I previously addressed how we discovered the endocrine disruptor phenomenon in Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies, as well as where they’re found (Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors).

For more on sustaining male virility, see Male Fertility and Diet, The Role of Diet in Declining Sperm Counts, and Dairy Estrogen and Male Fertility.

I’ve talked about the role a plastics chemical may play in male sexual functioning (BPA Plastic and Male Sexual Dysfunction). But it’s not just toxins, it’s the total diet (Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death), and not only in men (Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction).  My latest on the topic is Best Foods to Improve Sexual Function

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. Image has been modified.