Cushing Syndrome Diet: What Kind Of Foods Should You Be Eating?

There’s no set diet plan for people with Cushing Syndrome but it’s beneficial to increase calcium consumption, reduce sodium intake, avoid sugar, limit calories, and eat more protein.

Calcium rich foods

The foods you consume affect your body more than you realize. In fact, proper nutrition is the biggest contributing factor to achieving optimal well-being. Having a balanced diet of nutritionally dense foods also helps with managing certain health conditions. A particular example is Cushing syndrome, a collection of obesity symptoms and skin changes caused by constant exposure to high levels of the hormone cortisol. In this article, we’ll discuss a diet specifically beneficial for people with Cushing syndrome.

As previously stated, Cushing syndrome primarily occurs due to the overproduction of cortisol, a steroid hormone that is synthesized and released into the bloodstream as the body’s response to stress or danger. According to the Mayo Clinic, it may also be caused by the long-term use of oral corticosteroid drugs.

The symptoms associated with Cushing syndrome vary depending on how excessive the one’s cortisol levels are. Common signs include progressive weight gain, fatty tissue deposits between the shoulders, around the midsection, and in the face, and stretch marks that are purplish and pinkish. The condition also affects skin health by slowing the healing of cuts, infections, and insect bites, as well as causing increased sensitivity, easy bruising, and acne.

Gender is also a factor that causes differences in observed symptoms. For instance, women with Cushing syndrome may experience a disrupted menstrual cycle and notice the growth of thicker body and facial hair. On the other hand, symptoms common in men include decreased sex drive, fertility issues, and erectile dysfunction.

Other more severe adverse effects of Cushing syndrome include chronic fatigue, cognitive problems, muscle weakness, depression and anxiety, mood swings, high blood pressure, and bone loss. The Mayo Clinic adds that the condition may also cause impaired growth in affected children.

If treatment is postponed, the chances of developing complications increase. These include osteoporosis which may result in fractures in the ribs and feet, type 2 diabetes, frequent infections, and decreased muscle mass.

Cushing Syndrome Diet Tips

Cushing Syndrome Diet Tips

According to Jessica Bruso, a personal trainer and behavior change coach, although there isn’t a diet specifically designed for individuals with Cushing syndrome, making particular dietary changes may help limit risks and reduce the severity of symptoms. Without further ado, here are some beneficial dietary guidelines.

Increase Calcium Intake

Considering that Cushing syndrome increases your likelihood of developing osteoporosis, it’s only sensible to consume high amounts of calcium. The National Institutes of Health recommends that you at least reach the daily allowance for calcium of 1,000 milligrams. A calcium-rich diet will promote retention of bone mass. Some good sources are low-fat dairy products such as yogurt and cheese, fortified juices and nondairy milk, sardines, tofu derived from calcium sulfate, most grains, and green vegetable turnip greens, kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage.

Reduce Sugar

Another adverse effect of Cushing syndrome is a disruption and heightening of blood sugar levels, which can later lead to diabetes. To prevent that, choose your carb sources wisely and opt for varieties with a low glycemic index and glycemic load as they appear to bring less effect on your blood sugar levels. Good examples are whole-grain bread, fruits like pears, peaches, oranges, apples, and grapefruit, legumes like peas and beans, and other non-starchy vegetables.

Avoid Sodium

High sodium consumption is a factor linked to high blood pressure, an existing concern, and potential complications for people with Cushing syndrome. Avoid processed foods like canned soups, salty snacks, cured meats, instant noodles, and other packaged goods. Fast food like pizza, burgers, onion rings and French fries are very high in sodium as well.

A plus for limiting sodium intake is its significant impact on heart health. In addition, it’s recommended that you increase the intake of dietary fiber by eating a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. Consuming good sources of healthy unsaturated fats like tuna, salmon, seeds, and nuts is also beneficial for your heart.

Limit Daily Calories

You can manage and control the progressive weight gain that can be caused by Cushing syndrome by practicing portion control and selecting foods with lower net carbs and calories per gram. It’s also good to choose foods with high fiber or water content, such as various fruits and vegetables as they tend to fill you up and keep you satiated for longer.

Consume More Protein

Cortisol is highly involved in the breakdown of protein molecules, which is vital for the building and retention of muscle mass. Excessive cortisol, however, can lead to muscle loss. To combat that, eat large quantities of protein-rich foods such as lean meat, eggs, fish, tofu, lentils, beans, and low-fat yogurt. Try to include a protein-dense dish at every meal.

Lifestyle Tips

As discussed, it’s important to eat smart by selecting nutritious whole foods that are rich in antioxidants, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. It’s also suggested that you make sure you’re getting adequate calcium and vitamin D. Talk to your doctor if you want to consider taking food supplements.

A health article reviewed by Dr. Daniel Toft, an endocrinologist in Chicago suggests that exercise is also beneficial for people with Cushing syndrome. However, it’s important not to rush into a strenuous workout regimen. Start slowly and safely with low-impact exercises like yoga and tai chi. These help with stretching the body, improving blood circulation, rebuilding muscles, and healing joints. From low-impact movements, you can work your way up to a moderate training routine with the supervision of a professional. If you feel discomfort, pain, or increased severity of symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately.

Cushing syndrome greatly impacts your mental health. In fact, the condition commonly causes depression. Talk to your doctor about his or her recommendation in receiving therapy from a psychologist so you will be guided throughout your recovery. Keeping a journal may also help you cope with surging thoughts on a daily basis.

It’s also advised that you take frequent breaks. Get sufficient rest and sleep. In addition, try to engage in soothing and relaxing activities like meditating, having a massage or going to a spa. To reduce the appearance of your stretch marks, you can try some topical creams and oils. This may help you gain and maintain self-confidence.


Although it can be difficult to cope with the adverse effects of Cushing syndrome, certain dietary and lifestyle changes can support your healing and recovery. A positive outlook also plays a large role in optimizing your well-being. For a more specific diet plan, consult a registered dietitian and have a conversation about your individual health and nutrition needs.

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