Should I take a month off drinking alcohol?
Sober October is over – but was it worth it? Yes. Studies confirm that abstaining from booze for four weeks lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, improves sleep and concentration and helps you lose weight
Source: The Guardian
Dr Luisa Dillner
2 November 2015
Have you ever wondered if a dry January really works? Does your liver notice if you spend a month off the chablis, sipping elderflower spritzers instead? Apparently so, according to research to be presented this month at the 66th annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease.
A study of 102 drinkers who had a dry January found a reduction in their “liver stiffness” – measured by a scan that assesses the amount of fibrous scarring in the liver. No one knows what this means, although one could hope the liver can at least partially repair itself, given an alcohol-free holiday. Fibrous scarring can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, irreversible damage that can lead to liver failure. Importantly, the blood pressure of those in the study fell, as did their resistance to insulin, reducing the likelihood of developing diabetes.
The research is only available as an abstract and has not yet been published. It does, however, fit with findings from a pilot study from the same research unit, at the University College London Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, last year. That research found that 10 members of staff at the New Scientist who opted for a dry January (compared with four who continued drinking) experienced a 15% reduction in the amount of fat in their livers (a precursor to fibrous liver damage) and a fall in their blood glucose levels. They also reported better sleep and concentration, and an average weight loss of 1.5kg (over 3lbs).
In this latest study, the average alcohol intake was 33 units for men and 29 for women, whereas UK guidelines are 21 and 14 units – a unit being half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine. But before we all raise a glass to a dry January, there are studies that show 5-15% of people with fatty livers who abstain from alcohol still go on to develop fibrosis and cirrhosis, especially if their livers already show alcohol damage.
The Royal College of Physicians says there is evidence that drinking every day increases the risk of liver disease, and that it is better to have two or three alcohol-free days a week. But one problem in assessing a dry month is that no one knows whether you drink more, less or the same after it is over. The pilot study from UCL found one downside – avoiding booze reduced the social contact of the participants. Otherwise, do consider increasing your alcohol-free days because, as I have found, life is actually better without it. I’d still like to be invited to Christmas drinks, though.