The 10 Worst Foods For Prostate Health — and What Can Help

The 10 Worst Foods For Prostate Health — and What Can Help

How to Change Your Diet and Lifestyle to Boost Your Prostate Health

Eating well and avoiding too many processed foods has many general and more-specific health benefits, one of which may be to help men minimize prostate problems. 

In men over 50, prostate conditions are common, causing symptoms such as pain when urinating, and needing to go to the bathroom more often. The most common issues are [1]:

  • Benign prostate hyperplasia (enlarged but not cancerous prostate)
  • Prostate cancer
  • Prostatitis (swelling and inflammation of the prostate gland)

Later in this article we’ll look in a bit more depth at how diet, lifestyle, and supplements can influence prostate health and your risk of developing one of the conditions above. But first, let’s dive right in with the 10 worst foods for prostate health so you know what to minimize or avoid for good prostate health.

10 Worst Foods For Prostate Health

Here, we’ll drill down into the foods and categories of foods that aren’t usually good for prostate health. But you should always bear in mind it’s the totality of the diet that counts, and it’s also possible to over-generalize as to what specific diet habits are good or bad for the individual.

However, science does point to some foods/nutrients that generally aren’t good for prostate health (and don’t tend to be great for overall health either). In no particular order, these include: 

1. High-Glycemic Carbs

High-glycemic carbohydrates are sugary foods and refined carbohydrates (e.g. white rice, white flour, and refined cereals) that trigger large and rapid rises in blood sugar. Two meta-analysis reviews from 2015 and 2020 found a link between higher-glycemic carbohydrate intake and higher prostate cancer occurrence [2 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. High-glycemic foods can raise insulin levels, which in turn can stimulate the production and secretion of sex steroid hormones that are big contributors to prostate cancer development.

Some evidence, so far only demonstrated in animals but interesting nonetheless, suggests that a high-glycemic diet also changes the gut microbiome [4 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. As we’ll see below, microbiome changes may also be linked to prostate problems.

2. Fried Foods

Fried foods like donuts, fried chicken, and fries may be linked with higher prostate cancer risk. Though the results of individual studies vary, a meta-analysis of these studies found that a larger intake of fried food was associated with a 35% increased risk of prostate cancer [5 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Potentially carcinogenic compounds, such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, can form in oil when it’s heated to high temperatures [6 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

3. Inflammatory Diets

A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis found that overall, inflammatory diets were related to a greater risk of prostate cancer [7 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. A similar 2019 review came out with comparable results [8 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Foods that tend to trigger inflammation for everyone include [9]:

  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • Excess red meat (burgers, steaks) and especially processed meat consumption (hot dogs, sausage, etc.)
  • Margarine and shortenings

Beyond these obvious culprits, any food can be inflammatory if you’re currently experiencing an intolerance to it. Experiencing gut sensitivities and microbiome imbalances in conjunction with other inflammatory health problems (including prostate inflammation) might mean you could benefit from an elimination diet to root out what these sensitivities are. 

As an example, the Paleo diet removes many common culprit foods, allowing inflammatory symptoms to resolve. You can then experiment with reintroducing (healthy) foods one by one to figure out your individualized tolerance for specific foods (which can vary over time).

4. Dairy

Overall, a diet high in dairy products, milk, low-fat milk, cheese, and total, dietary, and dairy-based calcium may increase the risk of prostate cancer. For example, each 50-gram (2-ounce) cheese serving per day increased prostate cancer risk by 9%. It’s surmised that this might have to do with milk causing an increase in a substance called insulin-like growth factor (IGF) [10 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Eating more high-fat dairy products is also linked with a higher risk of benign prostate disease (BPH) [11 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

5. Calcium Supplements

Higher total calcium intake from food and supplements also appears to be a risk factor for prostate cancer, according to two meta-analyses. As such, keeping supplementary calcium intake low or moderate may be wise for reducing the risk of prostate cancer [12 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 13 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

6. Spicy Foods

In a survey of men with chronic prostatitis, 47% reported that the consumption of spicy foods, hot peppers, and chili aggravated their symptoms. Spicy foods may mildly irritate the bladder and prostate, exacerbating symptoms [14 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

7. Alcohol

Alcohol intake over a lifetime may significantly increase the risk of contracting advanced cancer. Men who drank at least seven drinks per week between ages 15 to 49 years had a more than threefold greater likelihood for developing high-grade prostate cancer than men who didn’t drink, according to one study [15 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

8. Excess Salt

A high sodium intake can sometimes increase the urinary tract symptoms that are typical of BPH. Following a reduced-sodium diet by avoiding processed foods and not sprinkling the salt shaker over meals may therefore be helpful for some men. That said, sodium is an essential nutrient that helps the body balance its water levels, so extreme sodium restriction isn’t advisable.

9. Excess Saturated Fat

Total fat intake appears not related to prostate cancer risk, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids seem to be beneficial. However, a high intake of saturated fat or animal fat — the kinds found in full-fat dairy products and fatty meat products — has been associated with a higher risk of advanced prostate cancer [16 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 17 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Overall though, saturated fat has been too much maligned and it isn’t the dietary demon that it’s sometimes portrayed as [18 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Consuming some saturated fat is perfectly fine, and in fact essential; it’s just excess that is an issue.

10. Eggs

In one large observational study, men who ate an average of 2.5 or more eggs per week had an 81% higher risk of developing a lethal form of prostate cancer compared to those who ate an average of less than half an egg per week. However, the study also found that men who consumed more eggs also tended to exercise less and have a higher BMI, and were more likely to smoke and have a family history of prostate cancer [19 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Other research suggested that eating five or more eggs per week could slightly increase the risk of dying from prostate cancer, but not developing it [20 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Eggs are nutritious and it’s fine to enjoy them in moderation, but ideally not in excess with prostate health in mind.

Common Prostate-Problem Symptoms

Most of the symptoms related to poor prostate health are urinary symptoms. This is because the prostate sits just under the bladder and surrounds the “exit” part of the urinary tract, known as the urethra (pee tube). When there’s prostate gland enlargement, this can press on and irritate the urethra.

Signs that you have a prostate issue, which may be benign or cancerous, include [1]:

  • A need to urinate more frequently
  • Getting up several times during the night to pee
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Pain or burning during urination or ejaculation
  • Pain or stiffness in lower back, hips, pelvic or rectal area, or upper thighs
  • Dribbling of urine

Any of these problems should be checked out by a doctor.

Diagnosing Prostate Problems

To diagnose prostate issues you might be given an internal examination (a gloved, lubricated finger is inserted into the rectum) and a PSA blood test that looks for a specific protein (prostate-specific antigen), which can be elevated in certain prostate conditions [21].

Depending on the results, you may need follow-up tests that help to refine a diagnosis [22 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Foods That Help Prostate Health

While there’s no one diet that can guarantee good prostate health, an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern has shown to be associated with better prostate health, particularly reduced prostate cancer risk [7 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Broadly speaking, an anti-inflammatory diet means an unprocessed diet that encompasses a wide variety of antioxidants from vegetables, berries, nuts, and seeds. Eating quality lean protein, and only modest amounts of higher nutritional-quality carbohydrates (e.g. whole grains, not refined) will also keep your diet in the anti-inflammatory zone.

Being aware of your own food sensitivities and how to identify them (as outlined briefly above) will also help you create an inflammatory diet tailored to your own needs.

Within these generalities, however, there are some more-specific foods and supplements that are recommended to consume for prostate cancer prevention. These include:

  • Green tea: Seven cups a day gave a good preventive effect against prostate cancer in one meta-analysis, but if that’s too much to stomach, green tea antioxidant supplements also seemed effective [23 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Men who ate cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli typically had a 10-21% lower risk of prostate cancer in one study [24 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • Tomatoes: Higher consumption of the antioxidant lycopene from cooked (not raw) tomatoes and sauces is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Cooking increases lycopene absorption [25 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 26 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • Coffee: Studies involving many thousands of male coffee drinkers indicate the benefits of coffee extend to a reduced risk of prostate cancer [27 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • Oily fish: Some studies suggest that the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in oil-rich fish such as salmon and sardines may be linked with reduced prostate cancer risk [12 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • Carrots: For each 10-gram (0.33-ounce) per day increase in carrot intake, the risk of developing prostate cancer goes down by 4–5% [28 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • Saw palmetto: This herb can help benign prostatic hyperplasia symptoms, improving quality of life. A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis comparing it with the pharmaceutical treatment tamsulosin, found the herb was as effective as the medication at improving quality of life, urinary flow rate, bladder emptying, and PSA levels. It wasn’t as good at reducing prostate volume, though [29 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
  • Selenium: In one study, supplements of the antioxidant mineral selenium were associated with a 10% lower prostate cancer risk [30 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. However in another study, selenium supplementation in men who already had good selenium levels actually seemed to increase risk for aggressive prostate cancer [17 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. The best idea seems to be to get your selenium from dietary sources such as Brazil nuts, whole grains, and tuna fish.

Prostate Health and the Microbiome

Several studies have indicated that an imbalanced gut microbiota can influence the imitation and growth of prostate tumors (and other cancers). It’s likely this is two-way, with the microbiota affecting the progression or response of cancers, and cancer also altering the microbiota’s composition [31 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

One theory is that the gut microbiome may have a role in prostate cancer via the metabolism of estrogen, high levels of which have been associated with the development of prostatic cancer cells [32 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Overall, the relationship between the gut microbiome and prostate cancer is little understood, but studies do suggest that people with prostate cancer have a different microbial profile than people who do not.

For example:

  • Microorganisms associated with a higher risk of developing or having extensive prostate cancer include: Bacteroides, Streptococcus, Bacteroides massiliensis, and Mycoplasma genitalium.
  • Microorganisms associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer were Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Eubacterium rectalie [32 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

While this doesn’t mean we need to try to micromanage our gut bacteria, it does suggest that overall gut microbiome health is associated with prostate health, underscoring the importance of maintaining a healthy gut.

Evidence also suggests that gut dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria) may be an underlying, primary cause of chronic prostatitis [33 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Rebalancing Gut Microbes

Rebalancing your gut microbiota isn’t one simple process and involves a healthy diet, adequate exercise, and good sleep. You can read more about it in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You.

However, taking probiotics is a simple step that can definitely help.

Though there’s no direct evidence that probiotics can reduce prostate cancer risk, we do know that the benefits of probiotics include improving gut dysbiosis and inflammation [34 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 35], which might be underlying risk factors.

Probiotics have also shown to be helpful in improving symptoms of prostatitis [36 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 37 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 38 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Tying It All Together

In this article we’ve listed the 10 worst foods for prostate health but also considered how you can eat to reduce the risk of prostate problems. Though following this dietary advice can’t guarantee you won’t develop prostate problems, it should bolster your general health and may mean you fare better if you do have prostate issues.

For more individualized help with prostate, gut, or other health issues, you can book an online or in-person consultation at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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