What happens to your body when you give up alcohol?
Whether you’re having an alcohol-free month, are trying to reduce your general intake throughout the course of the year or have chosen to go completely teetotal, there are a lot of benefits to be had from reducing your alcohol consumption.
Your health can improve quickly
'Go Sober for October' and 'Dry January' are a popular phenomenon in the UK, and over the years, millions of people have taken part. However, there are concerns about whether doing this for just one month can have any long-term effects.
New Scientist teamed up with Professor Rajiv Julan at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health to conduct a study looking into this.
A team of ‘normal’ drinkers were split into two groups; one group carried on drinking as normal and the other group gave up alcohol completely. After five weeks, no significant changes were found in any of the parameters measured for the people who didn’t give up alcohol.
But amongst the group who did give up alcohol for the five weeks, they experienced:
- A 2% reduction in their weight
- A 5% reduction in cholesterol levels
- A 16% reduction in glucose levels
- A 15% reduction in liver fat
- Ratings of sleep quality increased by 10%
- Wakefulness increased by 9.5%
- Concentration levels increased by 18%
- Work performance increased by 17%
Your long-term health will benefit
According to The National Cancer Institute, there is a strong scientific link between drinking alcohol and your risk of developing certain types of cancer. You may be more prone to head and neck, oesophageal, liver, breast, colorectal and mouth cancer.
Researchers have identified several possible reasons for this, including:
- Alcohol contains a toxic chemical which, when broken down by our body, can damage both DNA and proteins
- Alcohol increases the amount of oestrogen that women produce – this is a hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer
- Alcohol stops us from being able to break down and absorb cancer-fighting nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D and E
You will sleep better
Alcohol does not make you sleep better, contrary to popular belief.
The study ‘Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research’ found that drinking alcohol actually increases alpha wave patterns in the brain. This mimics a cerebral activity that usually occurs when we’re resting but still awake. The outcome is a night of disrupted sleep which is why we often feel so tired after a night out drinking alcohol.
Other studies have found that while alcohol may help us to fall asleep faster, it affects the quality of sleep we get after that initial restful period. Furthermore, we don’t enter the deep sleep we need in order to feel refreshed the next day.
You won’t gain excess weight
Alcohol can lead to weight gain for a number of reasons. Firstly, most alcoholic beverages are calorific, and some have a high sugar content. For example, a pint of lager contains nearly 200 calories and a large glass of white wine contains around 160 calories.
Secondly, drinking makes us hungrier than usual, which is why alcohol is one of the biggest drivers of excess food intake.
One study published in the journal, Obesity, found that women who had received an alcohol infusion equivalent to two drinks, ate 30% more compared to those who had received a saline solution. Even just mild intoxication was found to increase activity in the part of the brain that makes us more sensitive to the smell of food and prompts us to eat more as a result.
Your skin will improve
Not only is alcohol a diuretic, it also decreases the body’s production of the hormone which helps the body to reabsorb water. Within just a few days of not drinking, you will start to notice that your skin looks and feels more hydrated, ruddiness around the cheeks and nose may start to fade, and other skin conditions such as dandruff, eczema or rosacea may also start to improve.
If you think that you or someone you know could have a problem with alcohol, please feel free to visit our alcohol addiction treatment and rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments which are available.
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