Effects of alcohol on your thyroid and immune system

Photo: Marina Zaharkina/Unsplash. Collage/edit: BOOST Thyroid.

Photo: Marina Zaharkina/Unsplash. Collage/edit: BOOST Thyroid.

Alcohol impacts most bodily functions. While the occasional alcoholic beverage is safe for most people, if you have a thyroid condition you might feel different effects.

Alcohol and the thyroid

Consuming alcohol can drastically affect how your thyroid functions—such as blocking its activity (1), or lowering levels of hormones T3 and T4 (2, 3).

Alcohol is also known to destroy thyroid cells, which are sometimes used in treatment of a condition called thyroid nodules (4). Over time consuming alcohol can reduce the size of the thyroid (5), thought it initially enlarges it (6). This means the thyroid gland is left with fewer cells to produce T4 and T3. Although a positive impact is that it reduces goiter (7).

Continuous use of alcohol can result in Euthyroid Sick Syndrome (ESS), in which rT3 is elevated and T3 is reduced (3).

Alcohol and the immune system

The most common forms of alcohol—beer, wine, and liquor—contain plant versions of the hormone estrogen, known to trigger the human immune system. This might explain why some people with Hashimoto’s experience flare-ups in conjunction with alcohol consumption. Alcohol also prevents the immune system from defending itself against infections and inflammation in the body (8).

The gut is the first area where alcohol really starts to interact with the body and make contact with the bloodstream. Alcohol changes how tight the gut is—making it leaky and killing off good bacteria while making it possible for bad gut bacteria to grow. All of this directly impacts how the immune system functions.

When bacteria leaks from the gut, it can come into contact with the immune system and trigger a strong and acute response. If alcohol is consumed frequently, it can lead to ongoing inflammation and an autoimmune reaction. Binge drinking episodes can severely lower the capacity of immune system.

Moderate alcohol drinking

Occasional drinkers shouldn’t be alarmed. Moderate consumption of alcohol can be beneficial. Research has shown that moderate and intermittent alcohol consumption can help with suppressing the autoimmune response.

The immune system is one of the most complex systems in the human body. For it to function normally, it needs to collaborate with other body parts, organs, and cells—therefore not everyone might experience the benefits of moderate and intermittent alcohol drinking. This primarily depends on age, body composition, biological sex, genetics, and other lifestyle factors (9).

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  1. Koob GF, et al. Drug addiction, dysregulation of reward, and allostasis, 2001

  2. Rasmussen DD. Chronic daily ethanol and withdrawal: 5.Diurnal effects on plasma thyroid hormone levels, 2003

  3. Liappas I, et al. Interrelationship of hepatic function, thyroid activity and mood status in alcohol-dependent individuals, 2006

  4. Livraghi T, et al. Treatment of autonomous thyroid nodules with percutaneous ethanol injection: preliminary results, 1990

  5. Hegedüs L, et al. Independent effects of liver disease and chronic alcoholism on thyroid function and size: The possibility of a toxic effect of alcohol on the thyroid gland, 1998

  6. Valid P, et al. Effects of light to moderate alcohol consumption on thyroid volume and thyroid function, 2008

  7. Knudsen N, et al. Alcohol consumption is associated with reduced prevalence of goitre and solitary thyroid nodules, 2001

  8. Sardar D, et al. Alcohol and the immune system, 2015

  9. Romeo J et al. Moderate alcohol consumption and the immune system: a review, 2007