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