alcohol abuse and thyroid disease

The Connection Between Alcohol Abuse and Thyroid Disease

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

Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, can have potentially dangerous health effects, especially among those who already have thyroid problems.

The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Thyroid Disease

Alcohol abuse can depress the thyroid gland and cause physical imbalance and strain.

Acetaldehyde, a compound that causes hangovers, can interfere with thyroid hormone receptors. Then, when these receptors try to compensate for the lack of feedback, the thyroid gland becomes overworked.

Too much acetaldehyde can also cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, even when thyroid function is normal in the absence of alcohol.

Although alcohol has pretty strong effects on the thyroid gland itself, it has a much stronger influence on the liver and adrenal glands. In fact, these organs endure the brunt of alcohol’s adverse effects.

And, since the functionality of the liver and thyroid are so closely related, alcohol abuse leaves a notable impact on both.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

Thyroid Gland Illustration Trachea Larynx - ATSThe thyroid is located along the windpipe in the front of the neck and contains many blood vessels.

It plays a role in the sound of a person’s voice, as the vocal cords stem from the cartilage at the front of the thyroid.

The primary role of the thyroid gland, however, is the secretion of two essential hormones: T3 and T4.

These hormones influence:

  • energy levels
  • metabolic rate
  • body temperature

Overall, the T3 and T4 hormones are crucial for normal bodily functions and general well-being. However, T4 must be converted to T3 before the body can make use of it. To change T4 to T3, the liver, kidneys, and muscles process the hormones, although this primarily happens in the liver.

The T3 hormone influences every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. And since the hormone T4 can only be utilized after it’s been processed, the conversion process can get complicated when the liver is preoccupied with metabolizing alcohol. In other words, the longer it takes to convert the hormones in the liver, the more sluggish the body will feel.

Thyroid Disease Stats and Facts

The causes of thyroid disease are mostly unknown, and many people who have thyroid complications are unaware that they have them.

The American Thyroid Association (ATA) has compiled several statistics regarding thyroid conditions in the U.S. According to ATA:

  1. Thyroid disease, to some degree, affects an estimated 20 million Americans.
  2. More than 12 percent of the U.S. population will have a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
  3. Women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to develop thyroid issues, and one in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
  4. Thyroid diseases are lifelong conditions, but most can be managed with medical treatment.

The primary reason that women are more susceptible to thyroid issues than men is the hormone estrogen. Estrogen can speed up the inflammatory process of the immune system. And, since women naturally have higher levels of estrogen than men, they have a higher risk of developing thyroid issues.

The Role of the Liver and Thyroid in Alcohol Consumption

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

  • enzyme activation
  • fluid and hormone excretion
  • storing vitamins and minerals
  • metabolizing nutrients from food to produce energy
  • producing and excreting bile, which is necessary for the digestive process

The most essential function of the liver, however, is detoxification. The liver acts as a filter, pulling out any harmful compounds and preparing them for expulsion.

Assuming everything about the body is healthy, a person weighing in at 150 pounds (lbs) will need an average of two hours for the liver to process a single alcoholic drink. The more alcohol the person consumes, the more preoccupied the liver will be.

Issues in the liver often compound with frequent alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse would severely impact the liver’s ability to filter and expel toxins from the body. Moreover, it would exacerbate the breakdown of both T4 and alcohol in the liver.

In other words, if a person is already suffering from thyroid issues, alcohol abuse can cause T3 levels to plummet. Then, when the body isn’t producing enough of this hormone, it could result in hypothyroidism and a slew of uncomfortable symptoms.

People suffering from hypothyroidism exhibit:

  • fatigue
  • dry skin
  • joint pain
  • depression
  • hoarseness
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • facial swelling
  • sensitivity to cold
  • slowed heart rate
  • impaired memory
  • weakness in muscles
  • muscle aches and stiffness
  • increased blood cholesterol

It’s important to note that many medications for thyroid problems require a healthy liver. Methimazole, for example, is a medication that requires regular liver filtration to treat the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. So, any time the liver is strained, the medication becomes less effective.

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Additional Problems Associated with Alcohol Use and Thyroid Disease

For anyone who already has issues with thyroid hormone production, alcohol abuse is only going to make the issue worse.

Of course, the effects of alcohol reach far beyond the liver and thyroid gland. Drinking affects nearly every part of the body. For example, the presence of alcohol in the stomach interferes with the natural production of acid. When acid levels drop, so does the rate of digestion.

An even more significant threat to digestive health is the physical damage that alcohol abuse can cause, such as:

  • liver disease
  • malnutrition
  • brain damage
  • various gastrointestinal cancers
  • “leaky gut,” which can trigger a severe autoimmune response
  • erosion of the lining of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, etc.

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Thyroid Disease

The best choice for those with thyroid complications is to stop drinking altogether. Seeking professional treatment for alcoholism may be necessary.

For more information about treatment options for alcoholism, please contact us here or call us at (855) 247-4046.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.