You’re concerned about your thyroid and want to make healthy decisions to support. Among many things, you might wonder if alcohol affects your thyroid functioning.
The long answer is a bit more complex and detailed. Let’s begin by reviewing alcohol’s connection to general health, then delve into what the research says specifically about alcohol consumption and the thyroid
According to the USDA’s dietary guidelines, alcohol consumption is perfectly fine in moderation. Moderation is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. (This, of course, does not apply to pregnant women, people under twenty-one, people with Alcohol Use Disorder, or those on medication that adversely interacts with alcohol - those groups should not consume alcohol at all.) While some studies suggest that people who drink moderately have longer lifespans, follow-up studies could not confirm this benefit.
The CDC cites several studies as they warn about the many risks of drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol as defined by the USDA. Heavy drinking and binge drinking can lead to an increased chance of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, a variety of cancers, learning and memory problems, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism, among other physical and social problems. Research shows that the damage of alcohol abuse extends to the endocrine system. All excellent reasons to make sure you only consume alcohol in moderation if you choose to drink.
Different studies have found varying results related to alcohol consumption and thyroid cancer, but there is reason to believe that heavy, long-term alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk. One of the largest studies of this issue to date found that people who had been drinking for over 30 years, and those who drank larger quantities of alcohol, were more likely to develop differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC).
Other studies suggest that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol can actually have a protective effect against thyroid cancer development. One study found this inverse relationship between alcohol consumption and thyroid cancer in women, but not men. A meta-analysis of many studies found that overall, alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of thyroid cancer.
Similarly to thyroid cancer, alcohol consumption has a protective effect against autoimmune hypothyroidism. This protective effect is independent of the alcohol type, and is seen regardless of a person’s sex.
Long-term alcohol consumption and alcohol dependency have been shown to lower TSH, which is often high in hypothyroidism patients. Let us be clear: this does not mean alcohol is a treatment for hypothyroidism! The same study found that long-term alcohol consumption and alcohol dependency also lower thyroxine (T4), a thyroid hormone that is generally low in hypothyroidism patients.
An older study of rats found that the sleep of those with hypothyroidism decreased by 16% after alcohol consumption. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the same is true for humans, it’s good to note. People with hypothyroidism might want to avoid or limit alcohol, if they notice it affects their sleep or other symptoms.
The connection between alcohol use disorder, mood disorders, and thyroid disorders are uncertain. What is clear is that there is a definite connection and most likely, all of those factors affect each other. If you have a thyroid condition and find that alcohol affects your mood or symptoms, or notice that you experience alcohol cravings, consider abstaining from alcohol altogether to be on the safe side and best manage your illness.
If you do not have a thyroid condition or any other reason that keeps you from consuming alcohol, research suggests that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol such as beer or wine is not only safe, but could protect you from developing thyroid problems.
However, if you already have a thyroid condition, it might be in your best interest to either limit or abstain from consuming alcohol.
Alcohol can increase intestinal permeability (also known as “leaky gut syndrome”) which contributes to the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
So, when you’ve dialed in a smart and holistic treatment plan with your doctor, and your symptoms begin to stabilize, then you might better enjoy the occasional drink.
Like always, we recommend making intuitive choices that make you feel your best.
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