Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Health Benefits of Dry January

My under 30 year old hairdresser mentioned to me that she was having a "Dry January".  I had never heard that term and she explained that she wanted to be bikini ready for a trip to Maui so she was having no alcohol for the month.  According to a UK magazine called New Scientist, she is on the right track.

According to an article in National Public Radio Online, the staff at the magazine used themselves as guinea pigs and swore off booze to see what the health benefits would be.  Of the 14 staff members, 10 of them gave up alcohol for 5 weeks and 4 continued to drink as they usually do.  Their drinking patterns varied from a "low" of 8 bottles of beer to a shocking 64 beers a week.  (Those Brits do like their pubs!)

They analyzed the results of lifestyle questionnaires, ultrasounds and blood samples and found some remarkable differences in just that short period of time.  The abstainers saw their blood glucose levels fall by an average of 16%.  Blood glucose is a key factor in the development of diabetes.  They also found that those who stopped drinking for 5 weeks lowered their liver fat (seen on ultrasound and blood tests) by 15-20%.  Fatty liver is caused by obesity and excessive alcohol intake and is a major health problem and cause of chronic liver disease. 

And what about people who want to lose weight, like my beach bound hairdresser?  It turns out her "Dry January" was the thing to do.    There are about 120 calories in a 5oz glass of white wine.  Only 1.5oz of tequila or vodka contains 96 calories.  A 12oz bottle of beer is 150 calories.  By cutting out alcohol, you eliminate thousands of empty calories.  Some abstainers reported more energy and that means more activity, which also sheds pounds.

The researchers don't know if one month off alcohol translates into long term better health.  We know from other studies that the key is making changes that last and are part of our lifestyle.  Rather than a dry month, it would be better for our health if we cut back on alcohol consumption all year.  

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