For about a decade, there’s been the assumption that alcohol use helps prevent Grave’s disease, which affects the thyroid. The thyroid is a large gland in the neck, straddling the larynx. First, a little about that rumor, and then some evidence of what alcohol does to this important gland.
Regarding Grave’s disease, the Danish study that spawned the assumption that mild alcohol use decreases the risk to the thyroid was an observational study. People were surveyed, medical charts compared and results were tallied without regard to other lifestyle factors or a single test in a lab. The researchers reported that 88 percent of survey respondents without Grave’s disease drank alcohol, while only 72 percent of the people with the disease drank. Alcohol must be protecting the thyroid, right? Observation, not evidence. Even if true, these people reported mild alcohol use – one alcoholic beverage a week – and if you’re watching this video that probably doesn’t describe your drinking pattern. If you’re like me, you’ve never had just one.
Now onto the evidence-based studies on what alcohol really does to the gland. Grave’s disease causes one condition, called hyperthyroidism, which means the gland is overproducing. Symptoms include unexpected weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, and irritability. Alcohol causes magnesium loss from the body. Magnesium acts as a brake on thyroid activity, so alcohol use will cause more thyroid activity.
The opposite side of the scale is hypothyroidism, where the gland isn’t secreting enough hormones. Symptoms are tiredness, poor ability to tolerate cold, and weight gain. According to the leading thyroid researchers at the Dr. Broda Barnes Foundation, 80 percent of the population has some degree of hypothyroid condition. There isn’t damning evidence that alcohol causes it, however, the University of Maryland Medical Center says abstaining from alcohol can reduce symptoms of hypothyroidism. The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons also notes that regular alcohol consumption can lead to liver disease – which may alter how the body uses the drug levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone often used to treat hypothyroid.
There are about a dozen four-syllable words in that explanation of what alcohol does and doesn’t do for your thyroid gland. It boils down to this, if you’re banking on health benefits from drinking a known toxin, you won’t find any in the chaos it creates with the body’s delicate balance of hormones and neurochemicals.