Alcohol abuse is bad for you in so many ways, affecting your behavior, your liver, and your bank balance.
But consistent and excessive alcohol consumption can also have serious effects on your hormonal, endocrine system that aren’t quite as well known about.
So in this article, we’re going to focus on what excessive alcohol abuse can do to your hormonal endocrine system, and in particular your thyroid gland.
We will also attempt to answer all of your most frequently asked questions along the way, giving you everything you need to know.
Please feel free to scroll ahead to any section that jumps out at you. Here goes!
We’ll kick things off with a few basics before delving a little deeper.
What Is The Thyroid Gland, And What Does It Do?
The thyroid gland is located in your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. It produces hormones that control how quickly your body uses energy (metabolism), regulates your heart rate, and helps regulate growth and development.
Your thyroid is responsible for producing two main hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). T4 is the primary hormone produced by the thyroid, while T3 is an active form of T4.
In addition to regulating these hormones, the thyroid gland also stores iodine, which is needed for the production of T3.
The thyroid is part of the hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid axis, which is a complex feedback loop between the brain, pituitary gland, and thyroid gland.
The pituitary gland releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones.
When there are too much or not enough thyroid hormones circulating in your blood, symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, depression, hair loss, and dry skin may occur.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Thyroid?
Alcohol has been shown to interfere with the function of the thyroid gland. This means that when you drink alcohol regularly, your thyroid gland doesn’t work as well as it’s meant to.
There are three main reasons why alcohol affects your thyroid gland. Firstly, it interferes with the release of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland itself.
We know this because people who consume large amounts of alcohol often experience low levels of thyroid hormones in their bloodstream.
Secondly, alcohol increases the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can increase the activity of your thyroid gland.
If you drink alcohol regularly, then your adrenal glands will be working overtime to keep up with the increased demand caused by cortisol.
And finally, alcohol can interfere with the absorption of iodine into the thyroid gland. Iodine is required for the production of thyroid hormones.
When you drink alcohol regularly, you reduce the amount of iodine available to the thyroid gland.
Why Should You Care If Your Thyroid Isn’t Functioning Properly?
If your thyroid gland isn’t working properly, then it won’t be able to produce sufficient quantities of thyroid hormones.
These hormones play a vital role in maintaining health and well-being throughout life. They help us grow and develop, they maintain our metabolism, and they help regulate our moods.
If your thyroid is underactive, you could suffer from hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism causes many different symptoms including tiredness, weight gain, constipation, muscle cramps, cold intolerance, depression, and difficulty losing weight.
Hypothyroidism is very common. In fact, one in every ten women over 40 years old suffers from hypothyroidism, compared to only one in every hundred men.
Hypothyroidism is usually diagnosed after other conditions have been ruled out. Your doctor will ask about any symptoms you’re experiencing, and conduct tests to check whether your thyroid gland is functioning normally.
If your thyroid gland is overactive, you’ll likely suffer from hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism causes many similar symptoms to those experienced by someone with hypothyroidism.
However, these symptoms tend to come on quickly and last for just a few hours before returning to normal.
Hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism. It occurs in around 1 in every 200 people. Women are more at risk of developing hyperthyroidism than men.
To What Extent Is Alcohol Abuse A Risk Factor For Hypothyroidism?
The evidence suggests that alcohol consumption may be linked to an increased risk of hypothyroidism. A study published in 2012 found that regular drinkers were almost twice as likely to develop hypothyroidism as non-drinkers.
This was true even when the researchers took account of factors such as age, gender, smoking status, BMI, physical activity, and family history of thyroid disease.
The authors of this study also concluded: “Our findings suggest that moderate drinking may not be protective against hypothyroidism.”
To What Extent Is Alcohol Abuse A Risk Factor For Hyperthyroidism?
There’s no clear evidence that alcohol consumption increases the risk of hyperthyroidism per se.
However, there is some evidence suggesting that excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to the development of Graves’ disease.
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks its own thyroid gland. This leads to an increase in the production of thyroid hormone. Graves’ disease is more common among women than men.
Can Alcohol Abuse Exacerbate Pre-Existing Thyroid Problems?
It is known that alcohol abuse can make thyroid disorders worse. For example, heavy drinking has been shown to worsen symptoms of both hypo- and hyperthyroidism.
In addition, alcohol use has also been associated with higher rates of goiter (a swelling of the thyroid). The exact mechanism behind this association is unclear.
When Should You Seek Medical Advice If You Suspect That Your Thyroid Isn’t Functioning Correctly?
The first thing you need to do is contact your GP. He or she will be able to advise you on what steps to take next. You may want to consider seeing an endocrinologist (a specialist doctor) if your symptoms don’t improve within six months.
Your GP will also be able to refer you to an endocrinologist if he or she thinks that you might benefit from further testing.
How Can You Treat Thyroid Problems?
There’s no cure for thyroid problems as such. But there are ways to manage them. The most important step is to make sure that your thyroid gland is producing enough thyroid hormones. This means taking supplements containing natural thyroid hormones.
You can find natural thyroid hormones online or through your local pharmacy.
Another option is to use a medication called levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is a synthetic thyroid hormone which works by replacing the naturally occurring thyroid hormones produced by your body.
Levothyroxine is taken once daily. If you’ve had a thyroidectomy, you may require higher doses of this medication. Speak to your GP about how much you need.
So, it appears that alcohol consumption can impact the thyroid gland in multiple ways, making it underactive in some ways and overactive in others.
There is evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption can lead to an increased risk of hypothyroidism, where the thyroid is underactive, Grave’s disease, where the thyroid is attacked by the immune system, and swelling of the thyroid. It can also exacerbate the symptoms of any pre-existing thyroid conditions.
It is important that you look after your thyroid and hormonal systems because it governs your body’s metabolism and helps regulate your heart rate.
And, as they say, prevention is better than cure. So with alcohol being so disruptive to your body in general and to the thyroid, responsible drinking, or going tee-total is advised.