As New Year’s resolutions go, cutting back on food and drink are right at the top of the list. And while those vowing to change their eating habits may cut the carbohydrates or say a sweet goodbye to sugar, for regular drinkers, the tradition may involve what’s known as a “dry January”: giving up booze for a month.
But could such a short-term breakup with alcohol really impart any measurable health benefits?
The staff at the magazine New Scientist decided to find out, using themselves as guinea pigs. The findings of their small but intriguing experiment suggest the answer is a resounding yes.
The magazine is based in the U.K., where the dry January concept has been gaining traction, thanks to an annual campaign by the charity Alcohol Concern. In late 2013, 14 healthy New Scientist employees filled out lifestyle questionnaires, underwent ultrasounds and gave blood samples. Then, 10 of them gave up alcohol for five weeks, while four of them continued drinking normally.
“Normal” drinking for the New Scientist group ranged from 10 units of alcohol per week — the equivalent of about eight 12-ounce bottles of regular-strength beer — to 80 units, or 64 beers, per week. Those numbers may seem high, but in Britain, where drinking is a national pastime, the group’s supervising doctor told them none were problem drinkers. (Incidentally, Britain’s National Health Service recommends no more than 14 to 21 alcohol units per week.)
The results of these changes were significant enough to make you put down your pint and take notice.
Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a liver specialist at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, analyzed the findings. They revealed that among those in the study who gave up drinking, liver fat, a precursor to liver damage, fell by at least 15 percent. For some, it fell almost 20 percent.