A dry January promises a make-good for holiday indulgences. But does it follow through? (Photo: Getty Images)
While some people ring in the New Year with a champagne toast, others choose to start the year off in the opposite way: By giving up alcohol for the entire month of January, in an effort to cleanse or make-good for the holiday season’s indulgences.
Experts say this could be a good idea even if you’re not a problem drinker. “A lot of folks don’t realize the level of alcohol use that puts you at an increased health risk — it’s lower than people realize,” Rocco Ianucci, MD, the director of McLean Fernside, an alcohol and drug abuse treatment program, tells Yahoo Health.
More than one drink a day for women and more than two a day for men, he says, increases risk for liver problems, certain types of head and neck cancers, and a slew of bad habits that can snowball. After all, sugary mixed alcoholic drinks can teeter near 300 calories — so even mild drinkers can put themselves on the road to weight gain (a precursor to diabetes) and overeating, Iannuci says.
Plus, alcohol is a sleep disrupter, and lack of sleep has been linked to difficulties in losing and maintaining weight, notes Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic Wellness.
Not to mention that moderate drinking can up your blood pressure and low levels of alcohol can contribute to depression. And a recent BMJ study suggests that the less you drink, the better off you are. So you’d be right to put down the bottle. “Any time somebody overdrinks, if they stop drinking, it’s good for them,” says Liz Kovacs, PhD, director of the Alcohol Research Program at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
In fact, a study of 14 social drinkers in London found that after a booze-free month, people reduced their blood glucose levels by 16 percent, lost about 3 pounds, and saw their cholesterol drop by 5 percent. The research also showed that people who stopped drinking had 15 percent less liver fat at the end of the month — which can be a precursor to liver disease.
So what about all those health benefits linked to small amounts of alcohol? Taking a month off isn’t going to detract from them. As Kovacs puts it: “I don’t think anyone uses alcohol as therapeutic relief from cardiovascular disease.” (The American Heart Association suggests that you don’t do that, by the way.)
Ultimately, replacing beers with seltzer for a month isn’t going to lead to forever-lasting health benefits. That’s mostly because if you only temporarily engage in the good-for-you behavior, the benefits are most likely to be just that: temporary, says Iannuci. If you take 30 days off drinking alcohol but start up problematic drinking come Feb. 1, you’ll just see a boomerang effect.
The good news: It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. You can moderate your drinking instead of becoming a teetotaler. “January is a terrific opportunity for healing. You can evaluate your habits, and see how you feel at the end of the month,” says Ianucci. “That, I would say, could lead to long-lasting changes.”
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