Many people ask me if drinking alcohol with Hashimoto’s disease is okay. It’s not a yes or no answer. The answer is that it depends. It depends on how much you drink, how often you drink and how your immune system is functioning. I believe you should avoid alcohol in the healing stages of your Hashimoto’s disease journey although light to moderate drinking may be okay later on. There are numerous studies contradicting each other on alcohol’s effects on the body. Some say it is beneficial, others say detrimental … even when you have autoimmune disease.
Some studies have suggested that alcohol consumption can lead to a protective effect from thyroid cancer. The theory is that alcohol may protect the thyroid from elevated TSH by inhibiting thyroid hormone metabolism. Elevated TSH is known to increase the proliferation of certain thyroid cells (thus leading to thyroid cancer) in laboratory studies. While the study is interesting but not conclusive for me in any way as they are lacking in areas, I don’t at all take it as a green light to start consuming 20+ drinks per week. The consumption of alcohol is linked to the increase in several other cancers and is classified as a known carcinogen. Its also worth noting that Asians were not observed to benefit from the affect, perhaps due to the lack of enzyme which metabolizes alcohol. For more information on the studies, please click here.
Why Drinking Alcohol with Hashimoto’s Disease Is Problematic
So let’s talk about why you should avoid alcohol in the healing phase of your recovery from Hashimoto’s disease.
Poor sleep – You might have noticed that a few glasses of vino cause you to nod off more quickly. Some may think, hey its better than taking a sleeping pill. Doubtful. Both are terrible strategies. The truth is alcohol interrupts important sleep cycles through the night, particularly the dreaming phase known as REM. REM sleep is very restorative to the body.
Ever drink a lot and then wake up a few short hours later? When you don’t sleep continuously, cortisol levels in the body spike and your fight or flight mode is activated. What happens in this mode? Your body holds on to sugar and craves even more sugar because it thinks you need a quick source of energy to literally fight or flee.
Sugar – Alcohol contains A LOT of sugar. It’s well established that sugar leads to inflammation in our bodies. And repeated inflammation, also known as chronic inflammation, leads to disease. Not only that, simple sugars trigger a cascade of hormonal responses by elevating our blood sugar levels quickly (thus spiking insulin, just one of the hormones sugar affects) and then crashing them. Insulin regulates the way our cells use glucose. This repeated cycle of high blood sugar leads to insulin resistance as the pancreas gets tired of producing extra insulin to deal with the excess sugar consumption. Enter insulin resistance.
Insulin Resistance and Thyroid Hormone
Insulin resistance sets you up for weight gain and Type II diabetes. Being overweight and having diabetes significantly increases your risk of heart disease, cancer and a host of other illnesses. Don’t think this linkage is farfetched. Sugar consumption can lead to serious disease. Insulin resistance has been linked to the onset of Hashimoto’s disease as it often limits the liver’s ability to convert T4 into T3, active thyroid hormone. While light to moderate alcohol consumption has been noted to enhance insulin sensitivity, this does not play out the same way in everyone. And my approach would be to err on the conservative side when trying to heal your body. On to the next point.
Alcohol, Your Liver and Thyroid Hormone
Clogged Liver/Estrogen Dominance – This one is eye opening. We all know that our liver helps to detox the body from toxins. The liver treats alcohol as if it is a toxin… because it is. When your liver is constantly focused on trying to break down alcohol, its detox pathways can get clogged and its ability to break down other toxins is compromised. It also prevents the liver from converting the inactive form of thyroid hormone, T4, into its active usable form, T3. T3 is majorly responsible for metabolism and the growth and development of your body. The liver is responsible for about 20% of this thyroid hormone conversion.
In addition, the liver can’t process excess estrogen the way it needs to. Excess estrogen from estrogen mimickers (xenoestrogens, phytoestrogens), substances that act like estrogen in the body (found in plastic, birth control pills, hygiene products, herbicides etc), start getting stored in the body’s tissue. This puts women, especially high risk women, at even greater risk for estrogen dominant related cancers like breast cancer. That is why women who have a family risk of breast cancer are advised to seriously moderate alcohol consumption.
So alcohol is a triple whammy to your liver. The sugar and the alcohol itself both reducing the conversion of thyroid hormone AND being unable to detox the body from other things (like heavy metals and excess estrogen).
What can you do to improve your liver health?
First, reduce if not completely stop alcohol consumption. Two, milk thistle. Milk thistle has been used and shown to successfully treat liver disease. I drink hot water with milk thistle every day. Three, I also recommend dandelion root tea to improve liver health.
Three months ago, I introduced Vitamin E supplements into my repertoire. Not only did the hair on my head I thought was gone forever after pregnancy start to regrow, Vitamin E is said to be a powerful antioxidant which can provide great benefits in counteracting estrogen dominance. It can limit the inflammation that estrogen dominance causes and can reduce the response your cells have to estrogen. So number 4, is take a good quality Vitamin E supplement. Five is to get your Vitamin D levels checked. If you are deficient, start on supplementation right away and continue to monitor levels. Vitamin D is crucial for overall immune health.
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Alcohol Affects Thyroid hormone
Alcohol is known to have a direct toxic effect on thyroid cells, thereby destroying them. Ethanol (alcohol) is used in the treatment against thyroid nodules and goiters for this very reason. A reduction in thyroid volume has also been seen in alcohol dependent people. Reduced thyroid size is accompanied by reduced T3, the active form of thyroid hormone and Free T3 (active hormone in circulation for actual use) concentrations. It can also elevate Reverse T3, further worsening hypothyroid like symptoms. Read more about thyroid indicators here. So not only does alcohol impact the liver’s role in thyroid hormone conversion, it impacts your thyroid gland’s role in producing thyroid hormone.
Drinking Alcohol Weakens Your Immune System
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease. It is important to preserve your immune function as best as possible. Alcohol does not help preserve immune function. In fact, many forms of alcohol contain plant versions of estrogen, phyto- estrogens which have estrogen like effects in both animals and humans… even at moderate drinking levels. Estrogen has been found to trigger the immune system and has been linked to Hashimoto’s disease.
Alcohol also prevents the immune system from defending itself against infections and inflammation in the body and further promotes leaky gut aka intestinal permeability, one thing that can lead to autoimmune attacks on your thyroid tissue. Last but not least, alcohol can also affect Vitamin D metabolism, which is essential to immune health. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to cancer and autoimmune conditions, like Hashimoto’s disease.
Drinking Alcohol with Hashimoto’s and Fertility
Are you trying to get pregnant with Hashimoto’s disease? Read this article on Fertility and Hashimoto’s. It outlines my experience with trying to get pregnant with autoimmune thyroid disease. I wrote about what I did, step by step, to overcome my infertility.
As you can see from this post, alcohol has a profound impact on your hormone levels. Estrogen, insulin, cortisol and more. Your hormone levels should be at optimal levels when trying to get pregnant and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. I’m not saying it is impossible to get pregnant if you’re drinking alcohol with Hashimoto’s disease but you’re definitely not doing yourself any favors, especially if you consume alcohol regularly.
Last Thoughts on Alcohol and Hashimoto’s
I’ve seen a lot of papers and research about the beneficial properties of alcohol, like resveratrol in red wine for example. I’ve also read about how the world’s healthiest and longest living people drink moderately as part of their diet. But here’s what else they do. They do manual labor, are active much of the day, have strong social connections and community, consume a largely plant based diet with ancient grains and no processed food, aren’t exposed to industrial chemicals and pollutants AND probably (okay I’m speculating but seriously let’s be real) don’t have Hashimoto’s disease. Can you say the same about yourself? I’m not saying to avoid alcohol forever, rather, consider how much of it you should drink given what stage of life and health you’re in.
I would love to hear your comments below.