By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist
In May 2018, the first study on the health effect of abstaining from alcohol for a month was published in the British Medical Journal.
In the United Kingdom, alcohol consumption guidelines suggest drinking no more than six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine per week, with some days of the week being alcohol free. The BMJ study included 94 participants who were moderate to heavy drinkers. While most drank twice the recommended maximum amount, none had a history of alcohol related health problems.
What they found was promising. One month of sobriety led to improved blood pressure, insulin resistance—a marker for diabetes—went down by about 25 percent, and participants lost 4 pounds on average.
Proteins that are linked to some cancers also dropped significantly. While this isn’t proof that the actual cancer risk was reduced, the authors of the study found it interesting and novel, believing that it warrants further investigation.
When looking at inflammation, Gautam Mehta, lead author of the study, said, “We think that one of the ways alcohol causes damage is by making the gut a bit leaky, allowing bacterial proteins (not whole bacteria) to get through and cause low-level inflammation in the body.” But he went on to say that this is still speculative.
The study of course looked at liver function. While it showed small but significant improvements, Mehta said, “I don’t think we can say there’s a big improvement in the degree of liver disease but it’s hard to know if that’s a really important finding.” And he goes on to say that, “If someone’s got liver scarring or fibrosis, that certainly won’t change with just a month off.”
If you think a sober October would be good for you, create a solid plan. If 5 p.m. usually means happy hour to you, decide on what you’ll do instead. You may find that your body craves the calories and carbohydrates that you normally get from drinking so have healthy food on hand. This will help prevent filling the void with sweets and salty snacks.
Drinking is part of the social fabric for many and doing this alone can be daunting. Consider asking a friend or family member to join you so that you don’t feel isolated. Figure out how much money you’ll save by not drinking and put some of that aside to reward yourself at the end of the month.
Sober October is a great way to check into your relationship to alcohol and your mental health.
If taking the month off seems like too much, consider a week or even a couple of days and then shoot for taking a few days off each week. Over time, those couple of days will add up and can benefit you physically and mentally.
Beware that after a sober October, your tolerance will be lower, so don’t overdo it on Nov. 1.
Six months after the BMJ study was completed, the researchers were able to reach about two-thirds of the participants. Most said that they had cut back on alcohol consumption because they felt so much better having taken a month off.
If you’re concerned about the health of your liver, there are affordable, easily accessible and non-invasive liver function tests that you can have done. Early stages of liver damage are often reversible. It’s worth checking into the health of this vital organ.
Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach. Her purpose is to support others in becoming their best and healthiest version of themselves. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a complimentary 30-minute health coaching session. Check out her website corcoranhealth.com to learn more.