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

Metabolism. 1988 Mar;37(3):229-33. doi: 10.1016/0026-0495(88)90100-x.


In an autopsy study we found thyroid volume significantly decreased in alcoholics with liver cirrhosis as compared to matched controls: 15 mL (range, 7 to 37 mL) v 25 mL (range, 13 to 90 mL) (P less than .01). At the same time the amount of fibrosis of the thyroid glands was higher in the alcoholics as compared to the matched controls: 20% (range, 6% to 40%) v 12% (range, 6% to 23%) (P less than .01). In order to evaluate the relative importance of alcohol consumption and liver disease on thyroid function and ultrasonically determined size, three groups of patients and matched controls (sex, age, weight, and smoking habits) were investigated: group 1, 18 patients with nonalcoholic liver cirrhosis; group 2, 21 consecutive chronic alcoholics (greater than 100 g of alcohol daily for greater than 5 years) without liver cirrhosis (all had biopsy proven fatty change or normal liver); group 3, 31 nonalcoholic patients with chronic nonhepatic, nonrenal disease. In group 1 median thyroid volume and serum FT4I, FT3I, and TSH levels were unchanged compared with the controls. In group 2 median thyroid volume was 13 mL (range, 9 to 32 mL) compared with 27 mL (range, 12 to 44 mL) in the controls (P less than .005). Serum T3 and FT3I levels were reduced, while T4, FT4I, and TSH levels were unaltered. In group 3 serum T3 and FT3I levels were reduced while serum FT4I and TSH levels and thyroid volume were unaltered compared with the controls. It is suggested that alcohol may have a toxic effect on the thyroid gland independent of the degree of liver damage.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / pathology*
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / pathology*
  • Liver Diseases / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Smoking / pathology
  • Thyroid Gland / drug effects*
  • Thyroid Gland / pathology
  • Thyroid Gland / physiopathology
  • Triiodothyronine / blood


  • Triiodothyronine
  • Ethanol