According to the American Thyroid Association, nearly 20 million people in the United States have some form of thyroid disease. Nearly 60% of those with disease are not aware of the problem. Alcohol is consumed around the world, and is “the world’s third largest risk factor for disease and disability.”(1) Today’s article will talk about the effect of alcohol on the thyroid gland. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits on top of the front of your throat. First off, let’s establish some basic information.
- Hypothyroidism is where the body isn’t making enough thyroid hormone. Common symptoms linked with hypothyroidism are: Constipation, fatigue, thinning hair, intolerance to temperature changes, and trouble losing weight.
- Hyperthyroidism is where the body is making too much hormone. Common symptoms linked with hyperthyroidism are: Irritability, nervousness, muscle weakness, weight loss, sleep disturbances, and heart palpitations.
- A hormone is a chemical messenger that travels from one part of the body to another where it causes a reaction. Many hormones set off little chain reactions throughout the body, as we’ll see in this article relating to the thyroid.
- Low risk drinking is classified differently for men and women. For healthy men under 65, this means having no more than 4 drinks on any given day, and a max of 14 drinks per week. For healthy women (and men over 65), this means having no more than 3 drinks on any given day, and a max of 7 drinks per week.(2)
- Size matters! It is important to know what counts as a “drink.” The following graphic can be found at a website called Rethinking Drinking, a service of the National Institute of Health:
Alcohol and the Thyroid Gland
The effects of alcohol on the body are varied and numerous. Today we will explore what alcohol may be doing to your thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system and plays a vital role in energy levels, weight management, mood balance, and more. Chronic alcohol use has been shown to impact the thyroid gland. We’ll discuss two of the potential problems here today.
- Alcohol has been shown to be toxic to the tissue of the thyroid gland. (Actually, alcohol is used in surgical procedures to remove thyroid nodules!) The thyroid glands of chronic alcohol users can actually be smaller in size compared to non-drinkers.
- Chronic alcohol use is connected to having low levels of circulating thyroid hormones. The following image shows how this can become a problem. (I couldn’t find a drawing like this anywhere on the Internet, so I made one myself!)
For those of you who can’t read my handwriting, here is a description of what I hoped to draw above:
- Low levels of circulating thyroid hormone will send a signal to the brain to make more Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH).
- When high levels of TRH arrive at the pituitary gland, the receptor sites for TRH can become “inactive,” causing the body to make less Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
- Decreased TSH can lead to decreased thyroid hormone production, and we’re back to the beginning of the potential problem.
April is officially designated as Alcohol Awareness Month. If you have been struggling with an under-active thyroid, alcohol use may be contributing to the problem. Make an appointment with any of the doctors at Living Wellness Medical Center. We have the tools to help set you on the right path toward optimal health.