A booze-free Jan­uary boosts health well into new year, re­searcher says

Valley Journal Advertiser - - COMMUNITY - BY JOHN MCPHEE THE CHRON­I­CLE HER­ALD

It may al­ready be too late for some of us but stay­ing off the bot­tle this month could serve up big div­i­dends for your health, ac­cord­ing to a United King­dom re­searcher.

“Peo­ple who stay dry re­port big­ger health ben­e­fits than those who do not make it through the month,” said Dr. Richard de Visser, a se­nior lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Sus­sex’s psy­chol­ogy depart­ment, who sur­veyed more than 800 adults in the U.K. who par­tic­i­pated in the re­gion’s Dry Jan­uary cam­paign.

“My stud­ies have in­di­cated that Dry Jan­uary gives peo­ple the chance to find out that they can get by with­out drinking and/ or to de­velop the skills to re­sist temp­ta­tion or ex­pec­ta­tion or pres­sure to drink,” de Visser said in an emailed re­sponse to ques­tions about his study.

About four mil­lion peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in Dry Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to Al­co­hol Change, a char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion that or­ga­nizes the chal­lenge as part of its man­date to pro­mote re­search into al­co­hol con­sump­tion.

Of the 800 par­tic­i­pants tracked by de Visser, 70 per cent re­ported gen­er­ally im­proved health, 71 per cent said they were sleep­ing bet­ter, 67 per cent had more en­ergy and 58 per cent had lost weight.

There has been crit­i­cism that these kinds of ab­sten­tion chal­lenges are mean­ing­less be­cause peo­ple who make it through the pe­riod with­out drinking or overeat­ing even­tu­ally re­turn to their bad habits.

But de Visser said the Dry Jan­uary par­tic­i­pants he sur­veyed re­ported drinking less through­out the year. On av­er­age, they were drinking 3.3 days a week by Au­gust com­pared to a pre-chal­lenge av­er­age of 4.3 days. As well, they re­ported con­sum­ing less al­co­hol on the days they did drink.

His sub­jects in­cluded light, mod­er­ate and heavy (pos­si­bly de­pen­dent) drinkers.

“We know that lighter drinkers are more likely to make it through the month with­out drinking, but we have not re­ally ex­plored how the ef­fects dif­fer by drinker type,” he said in his email.

In 2017, 57 per cent of adults (peo­ple aged 16 and over) in Great Bri­tain said they drank al­co­hol at least once in the week be­fore be­ing in­ter­viewed, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion Drink Aware.

Drinking also is a so­cially ac­cepted part of ev­ery­day life for most Cana­di­ans, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s for­mer chief pub­lic health of­fi­cer. In a 2015 re­port, Dr. Greg Tay­lor said al­most 80 per cent of us drink.

“Although han­dled more like a food in Canada, al­co­hol is a mind-al­ter­ing drug and there are health risks as­so­ci­ated with drinking,” Tay­lor said in his re­port.

Up un­til re­cently, the con­sen­sus has been that light drinking — a glass of wine, prefer­ably red, with din­ner for in­stance — is ben­e­fi­cial for your health. But in the past year, some al­co­hol con­sump­tion re­searchers have con­cluded the detri­men­tal ef­fects of even small amounts of daily al­co­hol con­sump­tion out­weigh any ben­e­fits.

“We found that the risk of all­cause mor­tal­ity, and of can­cers specif­i­cally, rises with in­creas­ing lev­els of con­sump­tion, and the level of con­sump­tion that min­i­mizes health loss is zero,” re­searchers said in a study pub­lished in the med­i­cal jour­nal the Lancet that drew world­wide at­ten­tion in Au­gust. “These re­sults sug­gest that al­co­hol con­trol poli­cies might need to be re­vised world­wide, re­fo­cus­ing on ef­forts to lower over­all pop­u­la­tion-level con­sump­tion.”

As with many con­ver­sa­tions around al­co­hol con­sump­tion, their con­clu­sions were con­tro­ver­sial. Bri­tish statis­ti­cian David Spiegel­hal­ter said the Lancet re­searchers’ review process re­gard­ing the ac­tual health risks for oc­ca­sional drinkers was “in­cred­i­bly lax.”

But af­ter a close ex­am­i­na­tion of the statis­tics be­hind drinking and risks to health, de Visser leans to­ward the ab­sten­tion camp.

“I am not an epi­demi­ol­o­gist, but the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal pa­pers I read have started to show that for nearly all health con­di­tions, the safest level of al­co­hol con­sump­tion is zero,” he said.

“Many peo­ple thought/think that a small amount of al­co­hol can be good for health, but there was a J-shaped curve, with the ap­par­ent ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with doses of al­co­hol that are less than what many peo­ple ac­tu­ally drink.”

UNIVER­SITY OF SUS­SEX

Re­searcher Richard de Visser says “Dry Jan­uary gives peo­ple the chance to find out that they can get by with­out drinking and/or to de­velop the skills to re­sist temp­ta­tion or ex­pec­ta­tion or pres­sure to drink.”

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