Cushing's Syndrome Explained

Posted on May 13, 2017 at 10:15 AM

Are you gaining weight in your midsection and face, but dropping it in your limbs? Maybe you’ve noticed muscle weakness or an intolerance to glucose? If so, listen up, because you’re displaying symptoms of a disorder known as Cushing’s Syndrome.

What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s Syndrome refers to “a condition of excess glucocorticoids” (Lessard-Rhead 2013). In layman’s terms, glucocorticoids are a type of steroid hormone that regulate the metabolism of glucose. They are made by the body naturally, and have an anti-inflammatory effect. You’re probably thinking, “hey these gluco things sound pretty good, why would having too many be bad?” Read on to find the answer.

What are the Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome?

People with Cushing’s Syndrome present with some common characteristics. They generally display “obesity of the trunk, a moon-shaped face (due to fatty deposits in the face), and thin limbs” (Lessard-Rhead 2013).

When glucocorticoids are increased for a significant period of time, “fat and protein are transferred from the periphery of the body (the limbs), to the liver. Here they are converted to glucose, which stimulates insulin secretion, which triggers the liver to convert everything back to fat and store it centrally in the body” (Lessard-Rhead 2013). This is where the characteristic features of Cushing’s Syndrome stem from. But this cycle is dangerous. Apart from this pattern of weight gain/loss, people with CS are at risk of thinner/delicate skin, osteoporosis, weak/wasted muscles, and a low basal metabolic rate (Lessard-Rhead 2013).

Furthermore, prolonged insulin secretion in response to high glucose levels results in something called insulin insensitivity. Eventually, the body no longer responds to insulin and Type 2 diabetes develops (Lessard-Rhead 2013).

What Causes Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s Syndrome is seen more often in women than in men, and a common cause of CS is an adrenal tumour secreting cortisol, which is a type of glucocorticoid. It may also be caused by a pituitary tumour secreting more ACTH. ACTH stands for Adrenocorticotropic hormone – and its role in the body is to regulate cortisol. Thus, if secretion of ACTH is increased, cortisol levels will increase (Lessard-Rhead 2013).

The aforementioned causes were both natural, but Cushing’s Syndrome can also come about due to the “administration of high doses of cortisol as an anti-inflammatory” (Lessard-Rhead 2013). Corticosteroids are often prescribed by doctors for many inflammatory conditions, such as psoriasis, arthritis, lupus, etc.

What Can You do About Cushing’s Syndrome?

Hormones play such a large role in everything we do, therefore tackling Cushing’s Syndrome is best approached from a holistic viewpoint. It requires significant changes to your diet and lifestyle and definitely should not be undertaken alone. I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking guidance from a holistic nutritionist when addressing disorders involving the adrenals. To find harmony today, contact Harmony in Health!


Brenda Lessard-Rhead (2013): Nutritional Pathology

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