Unexpected health benefits of giving up alcohol

Given up alcohol this month? It could be doing wonders for your health [Photo: Getty]
Given up alcohol this month? It could be doing wonders for your health [Photo: Getty]

Dry January always seems like a good idea.

Until your other half encourages you to “share a bottle”, your “January baby” friend starts guilt-tripping you or you’ve just had a rubbish day.

With so many others doing Dry January, it’s likely you’re not the only one struggling. While we don’t have an estimate for the number of us doing Dry January for 2020, it’s likely similar to the estimated 4.2 million people of us in the UK jumping on the sober bandwagon for the first month of 2019.

The initiative, run by Alcohol Change UK, is intended to help its followers change their relationship with alcohol – undoubtedly a positive step forward.

But whether you make it through the month or not can be a different matter altogether – with temptations and triggers seemingly everywhere the minute you give up.

We already know giving up alcohol for a month could leave you richer, slimmer and healthier – but if you’re in need of some more reasons to maintain your break with Pinot, then please, read on.

The unexpected benefits of giving up alcohol

Your skin looks clearer and more hydrated

Let’s start with a big aesthetic benefit: your complexion. Drinking alcohol is “one of the worst things you can do to your skin,” according to Dr Ross Perry GP and Medical Director of CosmedicsUK.

Drinking can leave your skin dehydrated – making fine lines and wrinkles appear more visible – and duller in tone. It can also contribute to conditions such as rosacea.

However, on a more optimistic note, your skin begins to regenerate in “as little as an hour” after drinking alcohol – as your body starts to eliminate the toxins, explains Perry. Drinking a lot of water can help expedite these effects.

Perry says: “After just a couple of days rosacea won’t seem quite as bad but it’s really after seven days when you start to see real signs of improvement when skin looks less dry, the under eye area appears less puffy, and skin conditions such as dandruff, eczema, and rosacea begin to improve. The healthy glow starts to appear and lines and wrinkles look less pronounced.

“After a month, skin will look more radiant and generally healthier looking. The alcohol bloat will have almost gone in the face and in place a more youthful appearance.”

You protect your senses

Giving up alcohol for a month – and developing a healthier attitude towards it in the future – can benefit both your sight and hearing, says Royston Bayfield, founder and managing director of Bayfields Opticians and Audiologists.

“Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to many health issues, for your eye health this can include increasing the risk of macular degeneration,” he says.

“Additionally, changes in blood pressure caused by alcohol reduce how many nutrients and how much oxygen the optic nerve receives, and changes in levels of B12, or thiamine, can also damage vision.

“There are also some studies which suggest that excessive drinking can lead to an increased risk of cataracts, which is a condition that makes the clear lens of the eye go cloudy or opaque.”

Binge-drinking also poses problems for your hearing, too.

“High alcohol consumption over a long period of time, much like the festive season, can result in damage to the central auditory cortex of the brain which can then lead to brain shrinkage,” says Specsavers Chief Audiologist Gordon Harrison. “The damage to the auditory nerve then adds up, meaning even moderate drinkers are at risk.”

In the long term, this result in hearing loss, he adds.

You feel better when you wake up

We’re often refer to a small alcoholic drink before bed as a “night cap”. Yet, while it’s true alcohol can help us fall asleep, it vastly reduces the quality of this sleep – meaning we’re more likely to wake up groggy.

“Alcohol blocks REM sleep, and this is when we file and process information,” says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, sleep expert and neurophysiologist. “Giving up alcohol gives you cleaner and deeper sleep in which you wake up feeling more mentally sharp as you've had those vital brain organising phases of sleep.”

You are also likely to wake up with “more energy” after this deep sleep, she adds.

Going alcohol-free can also have beneficial sleep effects for menopausal women, who will likely experience less hot flushes at night.

“Alcohol can increase the frequency and intensity of hot menopausal hot flushes because of the effect on the nervous system and adrenaline levels,” explains Ramlakhan.

You feel happier

Drinking alcohol often has an emotional connection. We’ll celebrate with a chilled glass of champagne, or “drown our sorrows” with a Guinness.

But giving it up for January could have a positive effect on your mood, says Chris Hill, addiction expert and founder of the charity The Rob Hill Foundation.

“Alcohol contains ethanol which is a known depressant so whilst it may at first seem that consumption makes you feel better and more relaxed - that feeling is due to the lessening of your inhibitions rather than true physical relaxation,” he says.

What’s more, as an “addictive substance”, alcohol tends to act as a suppressant – “covering up any anxieties and fears you may have.

This means that, come the morning, “not only are you dealing with a hangover, you're also dealing with the effects of the sudden return of all your thoughts, feelings and emotions.”

Breaking this negative cycle with dry January could help you feel more “positive and refreshed”, he adds.

You make better food choices

While we hoped it would be a habit we left back in our university years, it remains the case that we’re guilty of the odd ill-advised meal choice after a few drinks – whether that’s over-indulging on a side of chips at dinner or making a late-night stop via that kebab place. Research by Buffalo University confirmed what we all know is true – finding that we tend to gravitate to salty snack foods and pizza rather than milk, dairy products, grains and vegetables after drinking.

Not only is this food unhealthy, but it’s also laden with calories: one study found that men consume, on average, 730 calories after a night of drinking, while women consume 715.

It stands to reason, then, that giving up alcohol temporarily helps you avoid this uninhibited mode of eating – meaning you’re likely to make choices that are better for your body.

Your dental health improves

Drinking alcohol may make you feel merry, but it won’t help your smile.

Regular consumption of alcohol, which is generally sweetened with sugar, can lead to tooth decay, holes or cavities, according to dentist Mark Buddha.

Then there’s the acid content of alcoholic drinks – particularly Prosecco and white wine, but also spirits such as gin – which “strips teeth of their enamel, thinning and weakening them”.

As if this isn’t enough, alcohol also dehydrates teeth and gums through reducing saliva flow – an effect which could encourage decay and gum disease.”

5 non-alcoholic drinks to try

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1. Eisberg Cabernet Sauvignon Alcohol Free Red Wine | £36.29 from Amazon

2. Seedlip Citrus Non-Alcoholic Spirit | £28 from Anthropologie

3. Nosecco Rosé Spumante Da Angelo Taurini | £3 from ASDA

4. Ceder's Crisp Non-Alcoholic Spirit | £13.78 from Amazon

5. Non-alcoholic Sparkling Water Cocktails | £10.99 for three from Amazon

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