Doing dry January? What an alcohol-free month does for your gut health

How does doing Dry January impact our gut health. (Getty Images)
How does doing Dry January impact our gut health. (Getty Images)

We're just over a week into the new year and for many of us, that means spending the month saying no to alcohol in order to fully embrace Dry January.

Alcohol Change UK, the charity that initially started the initiative in 2012, estimates that 30% of men and 26% of women would like to reduce the amount of alcohol they drink in 2024. And one in six UK adults (16%) plan to take a total break from alcohol this January, which works out to around 8.5 million people.

While research on how quitting alcohol for a month affects your body is still limited, several studies have shown certain psychological and health benefits including

One UK study found that moderate to heavy drinkers who took a break from alcohol had improved insulin resistance, weight, blood pressure, and cancer-related growth factors.

Further research, investigating the effects of Dry January, found that those who stopped drinking had lower levels of liver fat (which can be a precursor to liver damage), improved blood sugars and lower cholesterol than they did at the beginning of the month.

They also reported improved sleep and concentration.

Your gut will thank you for doing Dry January. (Getty Images)
Your gut will thank you for doing Dry January. (Getty Images)

But what about the impact ditching the booze for four weeks can have on gut health?

Before we look into the benefits switching Prosecco for Nozeco can have on our guts, it is worth first understanding the effects drinking alcohol can have on this particular area of the body.

“Alcohol can affect gut health in several ways," explains neuroscientist, Sabina Brennan, working on behalf of Rennie.

"It disrupts the balance of healthy and harmful bacteria in your gut, it can also damage the gut lining, and increase stomach acid production, potentially leading to heartburn."

Brennan says alcohol can also harm the liver, which indirectly impacts digestion and nutrient absorption.

"Alcohol can speed up or slow down gut movement, causing issues like diarrhoea or constipation," she adds.

"It can also worsen stress and anxiety, affecting the gut-brain connection. The effects depend on how much and what type of alcohol you consume, so it's best to drink in moderation. If you have ongoing gut problems, consult your local GP for personalised advice.”

The benefits quitting alcohol has on gut health

Now that we know the ways boozing can impact our gut, we can look into the potential benefits of jumping on the Dry January bandwagon.

According to Kate Hilton, clinical dietitian and gut health expert at, removing alcohol from your diet during the month of January has both a direct and indirect impact on your gut health.

Direct influence on the gut

  • Balances gut microbiome: "Abstaining from alcohol helps restore a healthier balance of gut bacteria, essential for good digestion and immune function," Hilton explains.

  • Reduces inflammation: Alcohol can irritate the gut lining. "A break from alcohol allows the gut to heal, decreasing inflammation and digestive discomfort," Hilton adds.

  • Enhances nutrient absorption: Alcohol can impair nutrient absorption. "Going alcohol-free improves the gut's ability to absorb essential nutrients," Hilton says.

But there are also some indirect improvements on health.

  • Mood improvement: Alcohol can affect neurotransmitters in the brain, often leading to mood swings or feelings of depression. "Removing alcohol can stabilise mood, increase energy levels, and contribute to a more positive outlook," Hilton explains.

  • Enhanced skin health: Alcohol is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration, which negatively affects skin health. "Without alcohol, you may notice your skin becoming more hydrated, leading to a clearer, more radiant complexion," she adds.

  • Better sleep quality: Although alcohol might initially seem to help with falling asleep, it actually disrupts the sleep cycle, particularly REM sleep. "Abstaining from alcohol can lead to deeper, more restorative sleep, making you feel more refreshed and alert," Hilton says.

  • Weight loss: Alcoholic beverages are often high in calories. "Cutting out alcohol can lead to a decrease in calorie intake, potentially resulting in weight loss," Hilton adds.

Doing dry January has some positives for gut health. (Getty Images)
Doing dry January has some positives for gut health. (Getty Images)

How to keep the gut healthy during periods like dry January

When it comes to keeping the gut healthy, particularly during dry January, Brennan has some tips:

  • Eat well: A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fibre, fruits, veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats support gut health. Fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut help too.

  • Stay active: Regular exercise, even simple activities like walking, benefit your gut by improving digestion and contributing to a more varied microbiome.

  • Hydrate: Drink enough water throughout the day to prevent dehydration (and constipation), especially if you have caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.

  • Manage stress: Stress can harm your gut, so practice mindfulness, meditation, deep-breathing exercises or other relaxing activities to manage it.

  • Health check-ups: Regular screenings can uncover gut issues early, including colon cancer and nutrient deficiencies like vitamin B12.

  • Medication awareness: Be aware of how certain medications may affect your gut health (never stop taking a medication without first discussing with the prescribing doctor).

  • Social interaction: Spending time with friends and family reduces stress, benefiting your gut. Social mealtimes encourage healthier eating too.

  • Sleep well: Aim for seven-to-nine hours of quality sleep per night to help maintain your gut's natural rhythm, avoid unhealthy cravings and prevent issues like bloating.

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