Excessive alcohol usage, in the form of chronic dependence and/or binge drinking, is a significant expense for the health care system costing nearly $2.9 billion dollars a year. With such a great monetary cost associated with drinking, it is not surprising that alcohol has a notable impact on one’s health. There are various bodily systems impacted by alcohol consumption including the thyroid. Understanding the dangers of alcohol abuse and its substantial influence over thyroid function is greatly beneficial for preventing and avoiding thyroid dysfunction.

Thyroid Basics

The thyroid is the small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. Hormones produced by the thyroid interact with nearly every cell in the body and influence numerous bodily systems including metabolism. The thyroid regulates one’s metabolism by producing hormones. The two primary thyroid hormones T4 (the storage form of thyroid hormone) and T3 (the active form of thyroid hormone) control metabolic efficiency. Depending on hormone ratio, one’s thyroid may become overactive (hyperthyroid), or underactive (hypothyroid). There are numerous factors that can influence thyroid function, one of them being alcohol consumption.

Thyroid Under the Influence

Although the occasional drink probably won’t cause any lasting thyroid damage, when drank regularly, alcohol can become a serious health risk. Numerous studies have acknowledged the negative relationship between the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis and alcoholism. Regularly drinking inhibits the peripheral thyroid hormones, free T3 and T4, and may reduce the activity of type II 5’-deiodinase. This enzyme is used in converting T4 into T3, and if it is not functioning optimally one may experience reduced levels of T3. This negatively impacts metabolic function and may lead to the development of hypothyroidism.

Numerous studies have also found that alcoholism blocks the release of TSH. Overconsumption of alcohol reduces the responsiveness of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which communicates the need for TSH. This reduced receptivity can remain for weeks after cessation of alcohol consumption. Without the appropriate release of TSH, the thyroid does not produce an adequate number of hormones. Inhibited enzyme functionality and reduced TRH responsiveness are just two of the negative factors associated with alcohol. It is likely that there are other methods of thyroid dysfunction caused by alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Consuming alcohol has a notable impact on thyroid function, especially if it is regularly abused. Over 260 health problems are directly or indirectly connected to excess drinking. However, sudden cessation of alcohol intake can result in severe thyroid dysfunction and irregular test results. This can cause ineffective and inaccurate diagnosis. Standard symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are comparable to symptoms of thyrotoxicosis states (hyperthyroidism). Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Palpitations
  • Irritability

The relation of alcohol withdrawal and thyroid irregularities is well-documented. According to a study presented in the Journal of Thyroid Disorders in 2015, during a withdrawal period, thyroid patients may present normal, elevated, or lowered T4 levels. The degree of hormonal shifts appears to be associated with the severity of the patient’s withdrawal symptoms. Properly analyzing thyroid levels already presents a challenge and additional confusion caused by alcohol withdrawal increases the difficulty further. Therefore, it is important that physicians alike take great care when analyzing thyroid test results of patients who consume alcohol.

Even though alcoholism has a definite impact on both thyroid function and test results, it is possible that other factors such as physiological and physical stress associated with detoxification negatively influence the thyroid. Malnutrition induced by withdrawal symptoms may also contribute to thyroidal issues.

Alcohol, Estrogen, and the Liver

Alcohol such as wine, beer, and liquor, contain phytoestrogens, which increase estrogen levels in the body. Elevated estrogen levels or estrogen dominance suppresses thyroid hormone production. Furthermore, alcohol promotes the activity of an enzyme known as aromatase. This enzyme increases the conversion of androgens such as testosterone into estrogen, further contributing to estrogen dominance and therefore blocking thyroid function. Over conversion of testosterone into estrogen due to excess aromatase is a predominant cause of reduced testosterone levels among thyroid patients.

When functioning at its best, the liver helps counteract estrogen dominance by removing it from the body. However, overconsumption of alcohol puts significant stress on the liver, making it is less effective at detoxification. This means that estrogen remains in bodily tissues for extended periods, thereby increasing overall levels and contributing to thyroid malfunction. Because the conversion of T4 into T3 occurs in the liver, it is critical that both the liver and thyroid are working properly. Conditions affecting the thyroid reduces liver function and vice versa. Unsurprisingly, hypothyroid and Hashimoto’s patients frequently develop alcohol intolerances because inhibited thyroid function significantly reduces the efficacy of the liver.

Take Responsibility for Your Thyroid

Safe limits of alcohol consumption differ depending on the individual. Generally, those who weigh more can safely consume more alcohol than those who weigh less. However, those with a thyroid disorder or autoimmune condition should limit their alcohol intake to one or two beverages weekly. According to Dr. Raymond Peat, when one consumes alcohol, they should ingest additional fructose to help protect the liver. Consuming fructose post-drink helps prevent toxicity by increasing liver metabolization of alcohol by up to 80%. This can significantly reduce the impact of alcohol on important bodily systems such as the thyroid.

Abstaining from alcohol is the best method to ensure that it has no effect on the thyroid. If one requires further motivation, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol abuse ranks among the top five risk factors for disease, disability, and death. Drinking responsibly may not only protect the thyroid but increase one’s longevity and quality of life.

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