Medically reviewed on December 10, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Cushing syndrome, also known as hypercortisolism, is a rare metabolic illness that can drastically impair the quality of life for people who have it. Whether you’re dealing with facial swelling, debilitating fatigue, or managing comorbidities like diabetes, it’s crucial to treat Cushing syndrome in partnership with a healthcare professional to minimize health risks associated with this condition.
In addition to medication, diet, and other lifestyle practices can be tremendously supportive for managing Cushing syndrome and its associated symptoms. Habits like avoiding highly salted or stress-inducing foods may help reduce symptoms and greatly enhance your sense of well-being.
If you’re motivated to revise your diet to combat Cushing syndrome, the following guidelines and recommendations can help you jump-start your journey.
Cushing syndrome is a rare condition that affects an estimated 40 to 70 people (mostly women) out of every million. Healthcare providers class Cushing syndrome into two categories :
In addition to Cushing syndrome’s root causes, many people with the condition share a similar physical and mental health background. Patients of Cushing syndrome, or other adrenal gland disorders, frequently report a history of :
Note that some of these are also symptoms of PCOS. So, check in with your healthcare provider who can help determine if you have Cushing’s disease vs. PCOS.
A Cushing disease diagnosis is also linked to other health conditions like :
Cushing syndrome can be a difficult condition to live with, with various impacts on both physical and emotional well-being. Regardless of Cushing syndrome’s root cause, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can be an effective way of protecting against health risks and improving your quality of life overall.
Unfortunately, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that nutritional or dietary interventions can cure Cushing syndrome. The recommended treatment for Cushing syndrome is surgery or tapering the use of steroid medication, depending on its cause.
However, it is vital to treat any comorbidities that arise with Cushing syndrome, like diabetes, osteoporosis, or even mental health conditions. In this way, modifying diet can be a key factor in supporting both physical and psychological recovery.
It’s important to note that if you’ve been diagnosed with Cushing syndrome, your healthcare provider is the most important collaborator in managing and treating your condition. They can review your current health and medical history and recommend a dietary protocol suited to you.
That said, there are several general principles you might consider incorporating when designing a diet that won’t aggravate your health:
When it comes to managing Cushing syndrome through diet, knowing which foods to limit or eliminate tends to be just as important as knowing which to eat. With close collaboration alongside a healthcare professional and a sustainable approach to changing your lifestyle habits, the following tips can help you create a diet that supports your physical and mental health.
Certain foods won’t necessarily spike cortisol, but they can contribute to heightened stress—and cortisol is one of your body’s main stress hormones.
Health experts usually recommend aiming for balance when trying to even out stress through nutrition: focusing on nutritious, whole, home-cooked foods. However, you may also want to avoid stress-enhancing substances, like caffeine, which can be found in:
Alcohol is another common substance that can contribute to heightened levels of stress in some people. A growing body of research shows that regularly using alcohol can activate stress response systems in the long term—even if you typically use alcohol to decompress or unwind.
If you’re a person who drinks alcoholic beverages regularly, it may be beneficial to discontinue or reduce your use for the time being.
Carrying excess weight is highly common among people with Cushing syndrome. If you’ve been diagnosed with comorbidities like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, or heart problems, managing your weight can be a vital part of treatment.
To develop a more balanced diet, try focusing on lean proteins, whole (rather than refined) grains, and whole fruits and vegetables. Whenever possible, try to avoid added sugars, saturated fats, and foods that undergo a high degree of manufacturing and processing.
Most adults in the US consume much more salt daily (3400mg, on average) than the FDA currently recommends (2300 mg per day). While getting an adequate amount of salt is crucial for health, highly salted foods can lead to fluid retention (bloating) and long-term health risks, such as high blood pressure.
Both of these may aggravate certain symptoms of Cushing syndrome, like weight gain, so reducing your intake may help you feel healthier and happier. When stocking your kitchen, you can exercise mindfulness by:
Many people with Cushing syndrome deal with bone density problems, making calcium and vitamin D key nutrients to prioritize in your diet. Foods that contain high amounts of these two nutrients include :
Research also indicates that certain lifestyle habits can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, such as having a sedentary lifestyle or drinking more than 1 alcoholic beverage daily. This is another reason why you might consider limiting alcohol intake, as well as emphasizing exercise in your Cushing syndrome health plan (we cover this recommendation in depth below).
While the process can take time and effort, it is possible to recover from Cushing syndrome. Fundamental to this recovery process is creating healthier lifestyle habits, which may include all or some of the following :
As a condition that impacts multiple areas of your mind and body, treating Cushing syndrome requires a similarly comprehensive approach. By making sensible dietary changes and focusing on your total well-being, you can protect your physical health and work towards building a higher quality of life down the line.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with Cushing syndrome or are simply concerned about your cortisol levels, at-home testing with Everlywell can give you a more accurate picture of your well-being.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome, or would like more information on how to manage it, browse women’s health online at Everlywell. Through this telehealth service, you’ll be connected with a clinician who can talk to you about your symptoms and help you establish the best treatment moving forward.
Start taking a conscious approach to your journey to well-being with Everlywell.
Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP is a board-certified Family Physician. Since completing her residency training in 2010, she’s been practicing full-scope family medicine in a rural setting. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s practice includes caring for patients of all ages for preventative care as well as chronic disease management. She also provides prenatal care and delivers babies. Dr. Foglesong Stabile completed a teaching fellowship in 2020 and teaches the family medicine clerkship for one of her local medical schools. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s favorite thing about family medicine is the variety of patients she sees in her clinical practice.