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Alcohol and Health

How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Thyroid Function?

July 20, 2023
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 20, 2023
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 20, 2023
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 20, 2023
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 20, 2023
11 min read

A small gland in the front of our neck straddles our windpipe. It’s shaped like a butterfly — smaller in the middle with two wide wings that extend around the side of our throat. You can feel it when you press your finger to the front of your neck.

This is our thyroid gland, and it plays a major role in many bodily functions. Drinking alcohol can negatively affect our thyroid gland and prevent it from functioning efficiently. Let’s take a closer look!

Understanding Our Thyroid Gland

Our thyroid gland is part of our endocrine system, which is responsible for producing and releasing certain hormones that help control many of our body’s important functions.

Our thyroid’s main job is to control the speed of our metabolism, aka our metabolic rate. This is the process of how our body transforms the foods we consume into energy. Since all the cells in our body need energy to function, if our thyroid isn’t working properly, it can impact our entire body.

In addition to regulating our metabolism, our thyroid also affects our heart rate, breathing, digestion, body temperature, brain development, mental activity, skin and bone maintenance, and fertility. It does this through the production and release of hormones: 

  • Thyroxine (T4). This is the primary hormone our thyroid makes and releases; however, it doesn’t have much of an effect on our metabolism. Once our thyroid releases T4 into our bloodstream, it can convert it to T3 through a process called deiodination. 
  • Triiodothyronine (T3). This hormone has a much greater effect on our metabolism than T4, but our thyroid produces lesser amounts of it.
  • Reverse triiodothyronine (RT3). Our thyroid makes very small amounts of RT3, which reverses the effects of T3.
  • Calcitonin. This hormone helps regulate the amount of calcium in our blood.
Diagram about how alcohol affects our thyroid function

Alcohol and the Thyroid Gland

So, does alcohol affect thyroid and if so, how? Studies have found that alcohol negatively affects our thyroid by suppressing or lowering levels of both T3 and T4 hormones. This can cause decreased thyroid gland volume.

To make thyroid hormones, our thyroid gland needs iodine — an element found in food and water. Our thyroid gland essentially traps iodine and transforms it into thyroid hormones. If we have too little or too much iodine in our body, it can affect the level of hormones that our thyroid makes and releases. Research shows that alcohol interferes with our body’s ability to absorb iodine, making it more difficult for our body to produce thyroid hormones. 

Furthermore, as noted above, the thyroid hormone T4 can only be used by our body once it has been turned into T3 — a process that relies on the muscles, kidney, and liver. For our thyroid gland to do its job well, the muscles, kidney and liver must be functioning correctly. Since alcohol damages our liver, the process in which T4 is turned into T3 can be significantly reduced. 

The Relationship Between Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism and Alcohol

Sometimes, people develop what is known as an autoimmune thyroid disease: our body attacks healthy thyroid cells. This can lead to hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).

Interestingly, multiple studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the chance of developing these autoimmune conditions in men and women below the age of 60. For instance, the study involving people with hypothyroidism found that consuming modest to medium amounts of alcohol provided protection, but those who had a higher consumption of alcohol didn’t show the same level of protection. 

Another study similarly concluded that consuming a small amount of alcohol weekly may reduce the development of Graves’ disease — the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.

Interestingly, studies have also shown that alcohol intake is significantly associated with a decreased risk of thyroid cancer. Research suggests this finding could be due to the fact that alcohol could prevent the growth or rapid production of thyroid-stimulating hormone hormone on the thyroid follicle and reduce the risk of cancer.

It’s worth noting, however, that these studies are not focused on causation, but association. Alcohol can be incredibly detrimental to our overall short- and long-term health, so we should always consult a doctor on how to treat a thyroid condition.

Graves Disease and Alcohol: What’s the Connection?

Graves disease is an autoimmune disorder that involves hyperthyroidism, or overactivity of the thyroid. It's the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and is characterized by bulging eyes (exophthalmos), heat intolerance, increased energy, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, and anxiety.

Interestingly, one study found that consuming a small amount of alcohol weekly — equivalent to one glass of wine or bottle of beer — may reduce the development of Graves disease. However, this shouldn’t be used to justify alcohol consumption. It’s best to talk to a doctor about the healthiest ways to manage the health of our thyroid. 

Alcohol and Thyroid Medication: Is It Safe To Mix?

If we have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, a doctor will usually prescribe a medication to treat the condition. For instance, the primary medication used to treat hypothyroidism is levothyroxine sodium, a synthetic version of thyroxine (T4), the thyroid hormone our body produces naturally. For hyperthyroidism, doctors may prescribe medications called thioamides — such as carbimazole and propylthiouracil — which stop our thyroid from producing excess hormones. 

So can you mix alcohol and levothyroxine, or alcohol and thioamides? The simple answer is yes. Alcohol doesn’t interfere with how these medications work, so technically we can drink while taking them. However, alcohol may worsen some of our symptoms or create side effects such as headaches, flushing, dizziness, or sweating. If we experience a worsening of our condition or symptoms, we should stop drinking and consult a medical professional. 

Enhancing Our Thyroid Health With Food

While the cause of thyroid disorders is largely unknown, evidence points to certain foods aiding our thyroid function. Foods rich in iodine, selenium, and zinc are particularly beneficial, as they help promote thyroid function. Here are foods to incorporate in our diet from each of these categories:

  • Iodine-rich foods. Seaweed, such as kelp, nori, and wakame, is naturally rich in iodine. Fish and seafood, like cod, canned tuna, oysters and shrimp, are also good sources, as are dairy products and eggs.
  • Selenium-rich foods. Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts are great sources of selenium. Seafood, chicken, eggs, bananas, baked beans, and cottage cheese are also good options. 
  • Zinc-rich foods. Some of the best food sources of zinc include meat, poultry, seafood (especially shellfish like oysters, crab, and lobster), nuts, and seeds (especially hemp, pumpkin, and sesame).

The Bottom Line

Alcohol can negatively impact our thyroid — vital for many bodily functions! — by suppressing or lowering levels of important thyroid hormones. While some evidence suggests that moderate amounts of alcohol can reduce our chance of developing autoimmune thyroid diseases and thyroid cancer, we shouldn’t use this as a reason to drink alcohol, given the toll it can take on our physical and mental health. 

If you’re looking to experience greater health and wellness, Reframe can help. We’ve helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and start thriving in the process. 

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