Gautam Mehta (Associate Professor at UCL with an interest in liver disease and the gut microbiome) shares the low-down on what happens to your body after steering clear of booze for January.
A month off alcohol, especially after a festive period full of excess, can certainly help you feel better but why? Of course, the real question is whether the benefits can be ascribed to alcohol alone or the other measures you might take in January like the new gym membership or a diet. The only real way to quantify this is a controlled, prospective study, which is exactly what we did in 2018.
We recruited around 100 participants doing Dry January, and 50 controls who intended to continue drinking alcohol, and measured changes in a number of biological and psychological variables. What we found in those doing Dry January, was quite striking – marked improvements in weight, blood pressure, insulin resistance (a marker of diabetes risk), and also cancer-related proteins in the blood. Importantly, all these findings were only seen in the abstinent group. These changes were consistent even and were robust after we adjusted for changes in diet and exercise that took place in January.
What we don’t know is how long these benefits last. But, we did assess some psychological benefits too; our participants also reported improvements in sleep and concentration, which were not seen in the control group (the ones who kept drinking alcohol). And what’s more, when we contacted the participants around six months later, the Dry January participants had reduced their drinking by around a third, which we didn’t see in the control group. This change in behaviour was largely reported to be because participants felt so much better from their break. So, it seems that a short period of abstinence can certainly have robust health benefits, and for most participants allows them to get an insight into their drinking and ‘re-set’ their relationship with alcohol for the rest of the year.
There’s no reason why going ‘dry’ has to be in January or as part of a ‘detox’ but it might be worth experimenting with a period of abstinence to see how you feel.