After overindulging and celebrating Christmas and New Year thousands are planning and have started to take part in dry January and give up alcohol for a month. According to the World Health Organisation Alcohol kills 2.5 million people each year all across the globe, which is a staggering amount with the statistics showing the numbers are only on the increase.
There are many reasons why people take part in dry January from trying to start the new year healthier, trying to recovery from a heavy few weeks of drinking or just simply taking the challenge to raise awareness and money for a good cause.
However are the health benefits really that beneficial?
This article is predominantly reviewing research from the following sources:
Research conducted by The New Scientist magazine run by Rajiv Jalan from the University College London Medical School who worked for the institute for liver and digestive health conducted an experiment with 14 participants to test the benefits if any of giving up alcohol for a month. The results were taken by ultrasound and blood samples predominantly focusing on the liver but as well as general health.
Further research was conducted by UCL run by Professor Kevin Moore on over 100 men and women in their 40s who took part in Dry January they looked into liver stiffness, blood pressure and insulin resistance.
The American Association for the study of liver diseases (AASLD) also did a similar study but with 102 men and women that on average drunk more than the recommended alcohol limits.
Reduced Liver Fat
The New Scientists measured that after a month abstaining from alcohol on average there was a drop by 15-20 % of liver fat in the participants.
Why is this a relevant finding and how is this significant to my overall health?
You may not realise but around 20% of all adults will have an increased amount of fat on their livers. An increase in fat tissue around the liver is often linked to inflammation. Periods of inflammation can lead to fibrosis, which is the thickening and scarring of the tissue around your liver. Furthermore it can also cause liver stiffness. The AASLD showed that liver stiffness was reduced by 12.5% in a month without alcohol. Inflammation and increase fat around the liver is often the first signs of a liver damage and subsequently liver disease and cancer.
Liver disease is a chronic condition that builds up over time and so reducing and identifying the early signs is very important. Advanced cases of fibrosis can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure as well as portal hypertension, which can be life threatening. Furthermore patients often will require a liver transplant, as the scarred tissue will no longer be able to do there job. (Bataller & Brenner, 2005)
Research has shown that given up alcohol can reduced you risk of getting diabetes by 28%, which is a result from decreases blood glucose levels. In one month Jalan showed that on average your blood sugar will drop by 16% from around 5.1-4.3 mmol by just given up alcohol. When the normal range is between 3.9- 5.6 a decrease of almost a point is highly significant to anyone on the border of being at risk of type 2 diabetes.
In type 2 diabetes (the type you often develop rather than having from a child) the cells in your pancreas are less sensitive to insulin and therefore produce less insulin as a result, which can leads to high sugar levels. If you have less sugar in your blood you body will able to react more effectively to the insulin and control your blood sugar levels more efficiently.
Furthermore insulin resistance and diabetes is significantly linked to developing other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, which includes symptoms such as stroke and heart disease.
Energy + Sleep
Research has shown that the quality of sleep that you get will improve by around 10 per cent over a month of not drinking alcohol. This is turn saw an increase of around 18% in rate of concentration. Everyone can appreciate a good night sleep and around 25% of us are unhappy with the amount or quality of our sleep. However sleep is important for more than just your mood in the morning though not being a morning person at all I count this as an important factor. People who get less sleep are 3 timed more likely to get a cold as well as help prevent diabetes, increase sex drive and lower your blood pressure levels.
Alcohol is often linked to weight gain and therefore reducing or stopping completely can cause you to lose on average 1.5kg in a month according to research from UCL. Alcohol is often called empty calories, as your body won’t feel any more full as a result of drinking alcohol. However it does still contribute to your daily calorie intake. Many people don’t realise the amount of calories in alcohol and the effect it can have on your waistline. For example a pint of larger has the same amount of calories as a slice of pizza or a margarita has the same amount as a cheeseburger!! A study by Lucas James showed that average wine drinkers over the course of a year would consume as many calories as 141 ice creams.
Jalan at UCLMS also saw a decrease in blood cholesterol levels by 5% which is on average of 0.2 mmol reduction. If your GP mentions high cholesterol it is will almost always be followed by a discussion about heart disease, as there is a very strong connection. Cholesterol builds up in the wall as of your arteries and can restrict the amount of blood that can pass through. Atherosclerosis is the condition that is associated with narrowing of the artery and can lead to life threatening conditions such as stroke and heart attacks due to the increase risk of having a blood clot.
So is it worth it?
On average around 64.1% complete dry January without a drink all month and often as a result will drink less on average for the rest of the year. If there was a drug that you could take that had the same effects as abstaining from it would have won all the Oscars by now and someone would be very rich indeed!
All the research conducted by Jalan at UCLMS was only done for a month and there is no research or indication that the effects would be heightened further or improve if you continued to not have alcohol for longer periods of time. No way is this article saying that everyone should give up alcohol permanently nor is it saying if you give it up for a month it’s all right to binge drink for the rest of the year.
There are some proven health benefits to wine particularly red wine, which Harvard University proved, can moderate HDL cholesterol or “good cholesterol”. Alcohol like everything is better in moderation the royal college of physicians recommended 2-3 dry days a week. Completely banishing alcohol from your life maybe a bit extreme and coming home after a stressful day at work or catching up with friends over a glass of wine won’t hurt you. However being more aware of your alcohol consumption and cutting it down slightly is probably not a bad idea.
You can download this guide at on The A State of Health Clinic’s Website.
Sources: Bataller, R & Brenner, D.A (2005) Liver Fibrosis The Journal do Clinical Investigation. 115 (2) pg. 209-218, New Scientist