Imagine your body is like a finely tuned orchestra, each instrument playing its part to create harmony. But what if one instrument goes out of tune?
That’s a bit like what happens in your body with Cushing syndrome, also called Cushing’s syndrome or hypercortisolism.
Understanding Cushing syndrome
Cushing syndrome might sound complicated, but it’s just a group of symptoms caused by having too much of a stress hormone called cortisol in your body. When you’re stressed, it cranks up the volume of cortisol.
“Cortisol does some important things like making your heart beat faster, increasing your blood pressure and affecting your blood sugar,” said Cindy Penaranda, a registered dietitian with Banner Health. “It also puts other systems in your body on hold temporarily, like digestion, reproduction, inflammation and balance of sodium in your body, when you’re stressed.”
However, too much cortisol can have the opposite effect.
This can happen because of brain or adrenal gland issues or taking certain medications like corticosteroids. It messes with your body’s rhythm and causes a host of conditions that are related to nutrition.
The good news is that fine-tuning your diet can help bring balance back to your health. Here are five dietary tips that can get your body back in tune.
Diet tips for Cushing syndrome
1. Power up your calcium
To keep your bones strong and healthy, try to eat foods rich in calcium, like green leafy vegetables, milk, nuts and foods with added calcium and vitamin D.
“The sunshine vitamin is packed inside foods like fatty fish, mushrooms and some cereals,” Penaranda said.
2. Mind your blood sugar
Too much cortisol can mess with your blood sugar, weight and eating habits, putting you at greater risk for insulin resistance (prediabetes) and diabetes. Avoid sugary and processed foods and snacks to keep your blood sugar in check.
“Pick high-fiber foods rich in carbohydrates with lower glycemic levels,” Penaranda said. “These foods keep you satisfied and pack a punch of essential vitamins.”
These foods include:
- Whole grains: whole wheat bread and old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal
- Legumes: Chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans
- Non-starchy vegetables and fruits: apples, oranges, spinach, broccoli, bell peppers and carrots
3. Watch your salt intake
High cortisol can play a sour note on your blood pressure, leading to hypertension. Skip the salty processed stuff and stick with natural choices like fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, lean meats like chicken and fish and homemade soups.
“Say no to store-bought dressings, condiments and sauces, as well as salty and crunchy snack items and deli meats,” Penaranda said.
[Read “7 Ways to Lower Your Sodium Intake.”]
4. Keep your muscles strong
Sometimes, Cushing syndrome can make your muscles weaker. “People with Cushing syndrome may have thinner arms and legs due to reduced muscle mass,” Penaranda noted.
Eating enough protein can help keep your muscles in good shape. Look for sources like beans, lean meats, tofu and low-sodium cottage cheese.
5. Hydration is key
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps your body work better and prevents fluid buildup. Water is the best choice and try to limit drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
Sample diet plan for Cushing syndrome
Here is an example of what some healthy meal choices may look like for someone who is living with Cushing syndrome. Talk to your health care provider and/or a registered dietitian to identify the best meal plan for you.
-Steel-cut oatmeal with almond milk, cinnamon and blueberries
-Greek yogurt with sliced apples and granola made with whole grains and no added sugars
-Scrambled eggs with spinach, avocado and whole grain toast
-Grilled chicken salad with mixed greens, cucumbers and homemade vinaigrette
-Turkey whole grain wrap with lettuce, tomato and avocado
-Chicken and veggie stir-fry with brown rice, carrots and snap peas
-Baked salmon with roasted carrots and broccoli
-Vegetarian chili with avocado and Greek yogurt
-Grilled chicken with asparagus and quinoa
Handling the effects of Cushing syndrome can be tough, but taking care of your diet can make a real difference.
It’s important to work with your health care provider to figure out what’s causing your high cortisol levels. Whether it’s Cushing syndrome or other factors, proper treatment combined with a healthy diet can hit all the right notes and improve your quality of life.
By making smart food choices, you're giving your body the tools it needs to manage the effects of excess cortisol. So load up on calcium-rich foods, keep your blood sugar steady with high-fiber options and choose wisely when it comes to salt and protein. Most importantly, don't forget to stay hydrated!
Take small steps each day and you’ll be on your way to feeling better and living well with Cushing syndrome. If you need help, you can find a Banner Health specialist near you.