Weight Loss? Better Sleep? If you’re looking for motivation to finish your Dry January, read on for a breakdown of what exactly happens to your body when you abstain from alcohol from hepatologist Dina Haleguoa-DeMarzio, MD.
What are the current guidelines for alcohol consumption?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. It is important to note that women appear to be more vulnerable than men to many adverse consequences of alcohol use. Women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood and become more impaired than men after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol. This is due to the fact that women absorb and metabolize alcohol different than men.
A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:
- 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol content)
- 8 ounces of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol content)
- 5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40 percent alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
Health makes up most of the reasons people list for why they go dry in January. Some of the benefits Alcohol Concern’s Dry January website lists include: better sleep, healthier skin and weight loss. What exactly does alcohol do to our insides and our liver? How does our body change without it?
Alcohol was recognized as a direct toxin to the liver in the1960’s. Alcohol abuse accounts for the third leading preventable cause of death and is a leading cause of cirrhosis across the world. Liver disease related to alcohol consumption fits into one of three categories: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, or cirrhosis. Fatty liver, which occurs after acute alcohol ingestion, is generally reversible with abstinence and is not believed to predispose to any chronic form of liver disease if abstinence or moderation is maintained. Alcoholic hepatitis is an acute form of alcohol-induced liver injury that occurs with the consumption of a large quantity of alcohol over a prolonged period of time; it encompasses a spectrum of severity ranging from asymptomatic derangement of biochemistries to liver failure and death. Cirrhosis involves replacement of the normal liver tissue with extensive thick bands of scar tissue and regenerative nodules, which results in the clinical manifestations of portal hypertension and liver failure.
Are there any other health benefits not listed that come from sobriety?
A recent study from the University of Sussex in 2014 surveyed 800 people who took part in Dry January. After going for a month without alcohol, people reported a number of benefits:
- 82 percent felt a sense of achievement
- 79 percent saved money
- 62 percent had better sleep
- 62 percent had more energy
- 49 percent lost weight
It is important to remember that half a bottle of wine has as many calories as a Snickers bar so weight loss is common with cutting the calories associated with alcohol. Another benefit of sobriety is that your immune system will improve – protecting you against infections.
Is all alcohol the same to the body? Should people think wine is a “healthy” drink?
To the body all alcohol is the same. One 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. It is the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person most, not the type of alcoholic drink. There has been some data that red wine maybe good for the heart. Overall, this data has been inclusive. Clearly wine alone will not lead to a healthy heart and should not be used for health benefits. Drinking patterns, lifestyle characteristics and dietary intake are all important for individuals to obtain a healthy cardiovascular profile.
How long will the health benefits of a sober month last? Is there a way to retain them without going totally sober?
If people with fatty liver and inflammation from alcohol stop drinking, the liver damage can be reversed in as early as six weeks. Some data from previous Dry Januarys have shown that for the 6 months following the month of abstinence, people reported decreased alcohol use. To get the positive effects, people should avoid binge drinking and practice sobriety for two to three consecutive days a week, year-round. Although alcohol can be enjoy social in those without a history of chronic liver disease, one must remember that is has no positive influence on our health and should be used sparingly.
Would you recommend Dry January to your patients?
I would definitely recommend taking part in Dry January to everyone. It is important to allow the liver time to heal after a holiday season with heavy alcohol use. Additionally anyone with chronic liver disease should not drink alcohol at all as no amount of alcohol is safe for them and can speed up the rate of their liver disease progression.