Zinc, Alcohol Damage, and Thyroid Function
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Several studies on zinc show its amazing ability to protect against alcohol damage. The data raises several interesting points – one of which is protecting yourself from alcohol intake and another is on general zinc deficiency, including alcohol induced, and its affect on thyroid function.
A fascinating new animal study showed that zinc supplementation1 guarded against the adverse effects of alcohol during pregnancy, including stillbirths and mortality in early life. This is a major finding and goes along with another recent study showing that zinc protects against damage to the digestive tract2 from alcohol.
In adults, low zinc is associated with alcohol induced liver damage3 and zinc is known to reduce that damage, partly by boosting the enzyme that clears alcohol (similar to pantethine supplementation). Zinc has been found to enhance antioxidant capability in the liver, as well as boost a main metal detoxifying compound called metallothionein (MT). Low MT levels sensitize the liver to damage, which is also a main finding in the two studies mentioned above. By stabilizing the GI tract, inflammation is reduced.
Collectively, all this information means that it is prudent to take zinc (25 to 50 mg) before any alcohol ingestion to protect against any potential problems. Even moderate drinkers may want to take an extra 25 mg of zinc for this purpose on any given alcohol consumption day, as would any woman who may be pregnant and not know it (one excess drinking experience during pregnancy can cause lifelong damage).
Additionally, it is also known that zinc is important as a cofactor for thyroid function. This means that if alcohol is inducing low zinc, that can cause low thyroid and weight gain. Zinc can also be depleted from stress, heavy sweating, or a diet that is lacking (no red meat).
Zinc is a key mineral that helps make thyroid releasing hormone4 (TRH) in your brain, which then signals your pituitary to make thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). In men, the failure to do this also results in low testosterone5. Low zinc is associated with low T36 (active thyroid hormone) and a reduced ability to convert T4 to T37 (similar to the need for selenium).
The take-home message is that if you struggle with low thyroid symptoms and consume any amount of alcohol you should take some extra zinc. Even if you don’t consume alcohol you could still be lacking zinc, and may need some to get your metabolism into gear. For example, a lack of sex drive, for both men and women, would be one sign of a need for zinc.
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