What are the Effects of Thyroid Cancer or Removal on Alcohol Consumption?
Updated: Mar 17
Some stories from thyroid cancer survivors are painting a picture of sudden alcohol intolerances after thyroidectomy. Survivors have reported awful symptoms the next day, after much less alcoholic beverages than normal. So, what's happening within to cause such side effects?
Drinking on the cellular level
Alcohol can cause direct cellular toxicity on thyroid cells, which causes thyroid suppression and reduces thyroid volume. Think of Ethanol Ablation Therapy for cancer treatment: in this case, alcohol is used to destroy thyroid nodules and in hope, thyroid cancer.
Rachel Hill, thyroid cancer advocate, identifies in an article about alcohol and your thyroid that alcohol can impact thyroid hormone levels.
"Regularly drinking a lot of alcohol inhibits thyroid hormones T3 and T4 and may reduce the activity of type II 5’-deiodinase. This enzyme is used to convert storage hormone T4 into active hormone T3, and if it is not functioning optimally, you may experience reduced levels of Free T3."
Reduced levels of Free T3 can lead to hypothyroid symptoms not identified by just TSH bloodwork alone.
The already-known effects of drinking can combine with symptoms like fatigue, depression, impaired memory and muscle aches, giving "morning after" a whole new meaning.
Surprisingly, some studies have actually shown moderate alcohol consumption to decrease the risk for hypothyroidism.
The most conclusive evidence to date of the effect of alcohol on thyroid cancer comes from the finding of the large NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which prospectively followed up 490,000 participants including 292,000 men over a period of 7½ years during which 170 men and 200 women developed thyroid cancer. The study clearly showed a significant reduction of cancer risk when consuming two or more drinks per day as compared to no drinking.
Estrogen, Alcohol, and Thyroid Hormones
Alcohol consumption is known to raise estrogen levels, a sex hormone. In turn, estrogen stimulates thyroid growth. That’s because high blood levels of estrogen signal the liver to increase the production of thyroid-binding globulin (TBG). This is an inhibitor protein that binds to the thyroid hormone, reducing the amount of T3 and T4 available for use by cells. In response, the thyroid gland cranks up production to compensate for the deficit. TLDR; alcohol raises estrogen levels, more estrogen reduces T3 and T4 creating a deficit of thyroid function.
Heavier alcohol use then further effects estrogen levels by making it harder for the liver to detoxify the contents and getting rid of all that excess estrogen.
Eventually, by no means is this happening after one night out of drinking, large amounts of estrogen trapped in your body can cause hypothyroid symptoms.
Do I need to avoid alcohol after thyroidectomy?
In the long-term, not unless you feel like you should. Drinking a reasonable amount of alcohol is perfectly safe. But, if you aren't liking the effects or feel like you need alcohol to get through the day, it's likely time to say so-long to drinking! There are many non-alcoholic options today so you can still make a fun "mocktail" and jazz up your drinks.
Although we might not liking being completely honest in all those health questionnaires we get for appointments, being clear about your alcohol consumption is important to identify further health complications.
Want to learn more about thyroid hormones? Read our resource on them and get all the names down–T3, T4, TSH.