How Alcohol Abuse Affects Thyroid Function

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Thyroid Function

Millions of people in the United States suffer from thyroid issues. For most of these individuals, an occasional alcoholic beverage isn’t an issue.

Regular drinking and alcohol abuse, on the other hand, has potentially serious health effects, especially among those with thyroid complications.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects the Thyroid

An abundance of alcohol can depress the function of the thyroid gland and cause bodily imbalances and strain. Acetaldehyde is a compound that causes hangovers and is a by-product of drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, it can interfere with thyroid receptors. The gland will become overworked as it attempts to compensate for the lack of feedback.

Acetaldehyde can also cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, even when the actual function is normal in the absence of alcohol. Although these effects are strong, the primary effect of alcohol concentrates on the liver and adrenal glands: They endure the brunt of the demand from drinking. Since liver and thyroid function are so closely related, there’s a definite impact.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

Thyroid Gland Illustration Trachea Larynx - ATSThe thyroid is located along the windpipe in the front of the neck, below the Adam’s apple area. This gland contains many blood vessels, and it plays a role in the person’s voice, as the vocal cords stem from the cartilage at the front of the thyroid.

The thyroid gland is also responsible for secreting two hormones: T3 and T4. Both hormones influence a person’s:

  • Metabolic rate
  • Energy
  • Body temperature

In general, these hormones are crucial for normal bodily functions and feelings of well-being. However, T4 must be converted before the body can actually make use of it. To change T4 to T3, the liver, kidneys and muscles process the hormones (primarily in the liver).

The hormones can only be utilized after they’re processed, so the longer it takes to convert them, the more sluggish the body will feel. The T3 hormone influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body, after all. Complications begin when the liver is preoccupied with metabolizing alcohol.

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Thyroid Disease Stats and Facts

The causes of thyroid disease are largely unknown, and many people who have thyroid complications are unaware of their specific issue. Nonetheless, the American Thyroid Association has attempted to size up the issue of thyroid conditions in the U.S.:

  • Thyroid disease affects an estimated 20 million Americans, to some degree or another, more than half of whom are unaware of their condition.
  • More than 12 percent of the population will have a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
  • Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to develop thyroid issues.
  • One in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
  • Thyroid diseases are lifelong conditions, but most can be managed with medical treatment.

High levels of estrogen put women more at risk at thyroid issues than men, as estrogen has the ability to speed up the inflammatory process of the immune system.

The Liver and Thyroid’s Role in Alcohol Consumption

A 150-pound person needs, on average, two hours for the liver to process a single drink, assuming everything about the body is normal. The more alcohol a person consumes, the more preoccupied his or her liver will be. This effect will be exacerbated by any existing liver problems, but it also compounds with frequent alcohol consumption.

If a person is already suffering from a thyroid imbalance, routine drinking can cause his or her T3 levels to plummet even further. When the body isn’t producing enough of this hormone (aka hypothyroidism), uncomfortable symptoms begin to show.

People suffering from hypothyroidism exhibit:

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Hoarseness
  • Facial swelling
  • Weakness in muscles
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Increased blood cholesterol
  • Joint pain
  • Thinning hair
  • Depression
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Impaired memory

Other Responsibilities of the Liver

The liver is in charge of several important functions, including:

  • Producing and excreting bile – necessary for the digestive process
  • Metabolizing nutrients from food to provide the body with energy
  • Activation of enzymes
  • Excreting important fluids and hormones
  • Storing vitamins and minerals for the body

The most important function of the liver, however, is detoxification. In this instance, the liver acts like a filter, pulling out any harmful compounds and preparing them for expulsion.

Many medications for thyroid problems or Graves’ disease (overproduction of thyroid hormones) require a healthy liver. Methimazole, for example, requires filtration to treat the symptoms. Any time the liver is being strained, the medication can’t function at maximum efficiency.

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Additional Health Problems Associated with Alcohol Use

Long story short: For someone whose production of hormones in the thyroid is already out of whack, drinking alcohol excessively is only going to compound the issue.

Of course, the effects of alcohol reach far beyond the liver and thyroid gland. Drinking affects nearly every portion of the body. Take the stomach, for example. The presence of alcohol interferes with the natural production of acid. When the levels drop, it’s harder to digest food effectively.

An even bigger threat to digestive health is the physical damage that drinking can cause, such as:

  • Erosion of the lining of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, etc.
  • Leaky gut – which can trigger a severe autoimmune response
  • Various digestive cancers
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage
  • Malnutrition

The best choice for those with thyroid complications is simply to stop drinking altogether. This notion may be difficult if a person has been drinking for an extended period of time, however. In many cases, seeking professional treatment for alcoholism may be necessary to regain the life that the individual deserves.

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