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How Does Alcohol Impact Thyroid Health?

With New Year’s Eve approaching, I figured it would be a good time to discuss the effects of alcohol consumption on thyroid health.  My goal isn’t to be a party pooper and suggest that you can’t celebrate the New Year with a few drinks.  After all, for many people with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition, having an occasional alcoholic beverage won’t cause any problems.  But drinking alcohol on a regular basis can definitely take its toll on your health.

Although some sources claim that drinking a lot of alcoholic beverages can depress the activity of the thyroid gland, thus resulting in a hypothyroid condition, the main effects of excess alcohol consumption is on the liver and adrenal glands.  Just remember that alcohol is a carbohydrate and will affect the blood sugar levels, and thus consuming a lot of alcohol over a period of months and years can fatigue the adrenals.  Weak adrenals can not only slow down the thyroid gland, but can affect the gut and immune system.

Plus of course alcohol will also impact the liver.  And the liver plays an important role in thyroid health, as some of the conversion of T4 to T3 takes place in the liver.  The liver has other important functions as well, with the most important being detoxification.  So if someone with hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease is taking drugs such as Methimazole or PTU, then they really do need to have an optimally functioning liver to help with the detoxification process.  And just because your liver enzymes are within the normal reference range doesn’t mean there are no problems with detoxifying.  By putting a strain on the liver, this will also affect digestion, and can even lead to a condition such as leaky gut syndrome.

But alcohol can also have a direct effect on thyroid health.  Acetaldehyde is a by-product of alcohol, and is one of the main causes of “hangovers” when consuming alcohol.  Acetaldehyde apparently can interfere with the thyroid receptors, which means that even if a person is producing a sufficient amount of thyroid hormone they can have hypothyroid symptoms.

Excess Alcohol Can Cause Other Health Issues As Well

So far we’ve seen how drinking too much alcohol can affect the adrenals, liver, and thyroid gland.  But it can result in other health issues as well.  Alcohol can interfere with the production of hydrochloric acid, which of course will cause problems with digesting food.  It can even cause direct damage to the intestinal lining, resulting in problems with intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which in turn can trigger an autoimmune response, thus leading to conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Drinking too much alcohol can also cause damage to the immune system, as well as the nervous system.

Gluten Sensitivity And Alcohol Consumption

Some people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s are sensitive to gluten, and thus attempt to avoid all foods and beverages that have gluten.  But some people aren’t aware that certain alcoholic beverages include gluten.  Keep in mind that there is some controversy as to whether people with a gluten sensitivity problem can drink distilled alcoholic beverages made from grains.  Apparently the distillation process removes the gluten and thus is supposed to be gluten-free.  But there is some controversy over this, and so you want to be careful about consuming certain alcoholic beverages if you have an intolerance to gluten.

However, some companies are specifically making gluten-free alcoholic beverages, as a number of brewers make beer using non-gluten ingredients.  There is also gluten-free vodka, rum, and most wines are also gluten free.  But once again, even if one consumes alcohol that is confirmed to be gluten-free, it still will have the same impact on the blood sugar levels and on the liver.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

So how much alcohol can one safely drink?  This really depends on the person, as in most cases the more the person weighs, the more alcohol they can consume.  But this isn’t always the case.  Many sources claim that it’s fine to drink one or two alcoholic beverages per day.  In my opinion, when dealing with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition it probably is best to limit your consumption to one or two alcoholic beverages per week.  And for my patients who are following a natural treatment protocol, I will frequently tell them to avoid alcohol completely.

Does this mean that someone who follows a natural treatment protocol and drinks one beer or a cup of wine on a frequent basis won’t receive optimal results?  Once again, it really depends on the person, as if someone already has compromised adrenals or a liver that isn’t detoxifying properly, then one or two alcoholic beverages per week might be too much, let alone one or two per day.  But even if someone’s adrenals doesn’t look too bad, I’m still cautious when it comes to alcohol consumption for people who are following a natural treatment protocol.

So if you celebrate the New Year by drinking a glass of wine or champagne, just keep in mind that this can have an effect on your adrenals and liver, and this in turn can affect your thyroid health.  Plus alcohol can also affect the thyroid gland receptors, and directly cause harm to the digestive system, immune system, and nervous system.  And if you’re sensitive to gluten, you want to make sure that any alcoholic beverages you consume are gluten free.  But even if this is the case it will still affect your blood sugar levels, and so anyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition wants to minimize their consumption of alcohol not only during New Years Eve, but at other times as well.


 

4 Comments

  1. Kate says:

    Great info, thanks. One flaw. Most wine grapes (in the US) are sprayed with MSG, so glutamate is a problem there. More bad news is that most California wine grapes also have overload of flouride. Even worse news is that even ORGANIC California grapes have overload of flouride.

  2. liveandletlive says:

    Wow. Seriously? If it’s New Year’s Eve, have a glass of champagne FFS! Have five even!!

  3. Doug says:

    Good read, I have issues with my gf, she believes she has a thyroid condition. However she is an extremely bad alcoholic and a diabetic… How dangerous is this mix? I take her to the hospital almost monthly, I can’t seem to help her stop.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Doug,

      Although some people with thyroid conditions do okay consuming small amounts of alcohol (i.e. some red wine every now and then), this doesn’t describe everyone, and of course it’s a different story when it comes to abusing alcohol, as this is definitely harmful for the health of your girlfriend.

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