As the new year begins and health resolutions abound, a new trend has emerged: dry January. By going without alcohol for 30 days, participants hope to ease the stress on their livers and improve their overall well-being. Whether you overindulged over the holidays or you simply want to be healthier, an alcohol-free month can offer a variety of benefits that help get the year started off right.
The liver plays a key role in removing alcohol from the body. A dry January gives the liver a break, freeing it up to conduct its other crucial functions. Perhaps more importantly, eliminating alcohol can lead to a drop in liver fat. A 2013 British study found that after just one alcohol-free month, participants lost a minimum of 15 percent of liver fat. Since excessive liver fat can lead to damage and disease, this reduction has far-reaching health benefits.
One of the biggest benefits of a dry January is calorie restriction. A pint of beer contains approximately 160-200 calories, and a small glass of wine comes in around 125 calories. If you normally drink 10 beers per week, abstaining for a month can cut up to 8,000 calories — which translates to a loss of more than 2 pounds. What's more, since a night of drinking can bring on late-night snacking or reduced inhibitions when dining out, you might find a further calorie reduction. If you only drink the occasional glass of beer or wine, the benefits won't be as dramatic, but they still contribute to your overall weight-loss goals.
When you stop drinking, your body responds by reducing the amount of glucose in your blood. The 2013 British study found that participants' blood glucose levels fell by an average of 16 percent. Reduced blood glucose has a variety of benefits for your body. According to the American Heart Association, lower blood glucose can reduce your risk for diabetes and prevent problems of the eyes, heart, kidneys and nerves. Since a dry January keeps blood sugar levels in check, it helps your body regulate insulin production.
In addition to the physical benefits of a dry January, you might also experience mental benefits. Studies have shown that quitting alcohol leads to better sleep quality, which improves mental clarity and overall health. Heavy drinkers often experience a reduction in brain volume — but after just 14 days of abstinence, your brain regains its lost tissue. As a result, you might see improvements in memory, cognitive processing and fine motor skills.
A dry January is one way to improve your health; if you're committed, it can jump-start an overall wellness plan. In 30 days, you can experience both mental and physical benefits and find the motivation to make long-term changes.
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