If you’re a man, it’s wise to take steps to keep your prostate healthy. It’s common for your prostate, a small gland that’s part of the male reproductive system, to develop problems as you get older. For example, your prostate may become enlarged, which is a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). And thanks to where your prostate is located, BPH can affect your ability to urinate. There’s also the chance you could develop prostate cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in men in the U.S., other than skin cancer.
One of the steps you can take to help keep your prostate healthy is to follow a healthy diet. But what does that mean exactly? We asked Curtis Crylen, MD, a urologist with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, CO, to answer a few questions about the link between nutrition and prostate health.
Can an overall healthy diet promote prostate health?
“Absolutely. An overall healthy diet is important for many aspects of health, and your prostate is no exception,” Dr. Crylen said. The good news? The same healthy eating habits that are good for your heart are also good to maintain a healthy prostate. He recommends a diet such as the Mediterranean diet, which is:
- Low in saturated fats
- High in fiber
- Focused on plant-based foods
- Lower in red meat, with more fish and poultry in its place
- Moderate in dairy products
- Low to moderate in alcohol intake
Which specific foods can help keep your prostate healthy?
There are no specific foods guaranteed to keep your prostate healthy. “Having a more ‘plant-forward’ diet rich in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy, brussels sprouts and radishes that also incorporates some soy and flax seed is a great start,” Dr. Crylen said. You don’t have to become a vegetarian—just nudge your diet in the right direction.
Which foods could harm your prostate health?
“There’s nothing that’s terribly harmful as long as you eat low or moderate amounts,” Dr. Crylen said. Saturated and trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of many cancers, including prostate cancer. So, it’s smart to limit foods that contain them, such as red meat, processed or cured meats such as bacon and sausage, fried or fast food and excessive amounts of dairy.
Can supplements promote prostate health?
Probably not. A lot of supplements, including zinc, lycopene and selenium, have been touted as “magic bullets” that can prevent prostate cancer. But they’ve been researched, and they have not been found to reduce risk significantly. In fact, they could harm your health if you take high amounts.
“We are inundated with information and ‘new breakthroughs’ regarding cancer prevention, ‘superfoods’ and supplements that promise to decrease cancer risk and improve health. This information may be well-intentioned, but it often comes from small studies. There are many examples where larger, better-designed studies don’t support the initial claims. They sometimes even find the opposite outcome,” Dr. Crylen said. He recommends against making drastic changes in your diet or supplement use based on the latest news.
Instead, he suggests getting the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients you need through a healthy diet rather than supplements. You may also want to take a multivitamin that includes the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.
There are two exceptions where you might want to take supplements to support your overall health—vitamin D and calcium. Many men are deficient in vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and overall health and well-being. A blood test can check your vitamin D levels to see if you are deficient. And, if you are limiting dairy foods, you may not get enough calcium from other foods, so you may need a calcium supplement. A blood test can check your calcium levels as well.
What else can you do to help keep your prostate healthy?
Moderate exercise might help indirectly. That’s because obesity is a risk factor for an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer, and exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. Dr. Crylen said to include resistance or weight-lifting exercise several times per week, which also improve insulin resistance, heart health and bone health.
“It’s hard to design a study proving that exercise or other lifestyle habits decrease your risk for certain cancers. But we know that these important habits positively impact your health in various ways,” Dr. Crylen said.
The bottom line
Healthy habits are important to keeping your prostate healthy and reducing your risk for prostate cancer. “It’s the things we do day-in and day-out that add up to influence risk,” Dr. Crylen said.
And it’s not just diet and exercise that can affect your risk. “Talk with your doctor about your family history and genetic risk factors, and follow screening guidelines based on these risks,” he said. If you would like to connect with a health care provider who can help you evaluate and manage your risk, reach out to Banner Health.