Cushing's syndrome occurs when your body has too high of a concentration of the hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol can be the result of taking corticosteroid medications, an adrenal gland tumor or an overproduction of the ACTH hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cushing's syndrome is characterized by weight gain, especially in the face, neck and between the shoulders, fatigue, mood changes and trouble with short-term memory. It can also increase your risk of certain medical conditions. (See Reference 3) Diet can help you control the symptoms of Cushing's syndrome, though you should talk to your doctor before attempting to self-treat the condition.
People with Cushing's syndrome may be extra-sensitive to the effects of a diet high in sodium, which can result in fluid retention, swelling, weight gain and an increase in blood pressure. According to Drugs.com, it's common for individuals suffering from Cushing's syndrome to be placed on a sodium-restricted diet. To reduce your sodium intake, avoid processed, canned and ready-made foods, as well as cured meats such as bacon or ham. Experiment with sodium-free spices, herbs and juices like lemon juice as a flavoring for your meals instead of salt, pre-packaged seasoning mixes or high-sodium condiments like ketchup or soy sauce. Use low- or no-sodium products whenever possible.
Having Cushing's syndrome can make it difficult for you to keep your cholesterol levels in check, says the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center. Try to limit your intake of cholesterol to under 300 milligrams per day by choosing low- or no-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat or poultry. The Mayo Clinic advises avoiding all high-trans fat foods like commercially baked cakes, crackers or cookies and using monounsaturated fats like olive or canola oil instead of butter. Eat more plant-based foods, like whole grains, beans, legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Increase Calcium Intake
Individuals suffering from Cushing's syndrome have a higher risk of thinner bones and are more likely to develop osteoporosis. To counterbalance bone loss, Cushing's syndrome patients between 11 and 24 years old are recommended to consume at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day, while adults over the age of 24 need about 800 milligrams per day. Dairy products are good sources of calcium, but vegans and strict vegetarians can meet their calcium requirement by regularly eating beans like white beans, spinach, calcium-fortified juice or soy milk and calcium-set tofu.
Increase Vitamin D Intake
Adequate vitamin D is necessary for your body to be able to use calcium to build strong bones. Cushing's syndrome patients up to 50 years old need 5 micrograms of vitamin D daily. Over the age 51, you may need as much as 15 micrograms of vitamin D each day. Your skin synthesizes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, but, to get enough, people with Cushing's syndrome should include vitamin-fortified juice, milk or cereal and fatty fish like salmon or sardines in their diet.
Choose Carbohydrates Carefully
It's common for Cushing's syndrome patients to develop hyperglycemia, or abnormally high blood sugar levels. One of the best ways for you to keep your blood sugar under control is to eat more high-fiber carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index, and to strictly limit your consumption of low-fiber foods with a high glycemic index. Foods with a low glycemic index are digested slowly and allow glucose to enter your bloodstream at a steady, even rate that doesn't cause spikes in your blood sugar level. Good choices include non-starchy fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains like brown rice, rolled oats or whole-wheat bread or pasta.
- Mayo Clinic: Cushing Syndrome
- The Pituitary Society: Cushing's Syndrome and Cushing's Disease - Your Questions Answered
- Novartis Oncology: Information for People with Cushing's Disease
- Mayo Clinic: Sodium - How to Tame Your Salt Habit Now
- Drugs.com: Cushing Syndrome
- Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center: Nutrition for Patients with Cushing Syndrome
- Mayo Clinic: Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol
- Linus Pauling Institute: Calcium
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin D
- HelpGuide.org: Diabetes Diet and Food Tips
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.