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Teetotaling for a Time

Teetotaling for a Time
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By Kitt Walsh

It sometimes seems like growing older means giving things up. Cut back on sugar to avoid diabetes. Watch out for high-impact exercise to avoid hurting your knees. No more salt—it’s bad for your heart. Quit the high-stress executive job and no more late nights for you. Whoever said, “You might not live forever, it will just feel that way,” had a point.

So I am not presenting for your consideration giving up your nightly cocktail permanently. I am just repeating on an increasingly popular trend: quitting drinking for a month.

Started in the UK where more of our circumspect brethren across the pond are every year following the lead of a charity known as Alcohol Concern. This organization proposed that giving up alcohol for one month will merit measurably better health.

Many choose to participate in January as a New Year’s Resolution, (engaging in “Drynuary”) but with New Year’s open houses, football playoffs, winter cruises and temps hovering in the single digits in many parts of the country (calling for hot buttered rums and cognac before the fire), you may want to consider picking another month (Valentine’s Day with sparkling water and cranberry perhaps?)

The staff at New Scientist Magazine gave it a shot (excuse the pun) and their findings show that giving up libations for as little as 40 days does indeed do wonders for your health. (Half the staff kept drinking as a counter measure. You’ve got to wonder if they drew straws…ouch, another pun. Sorry.)

Everybody filled out questionnaires, and had a thorough health screening, including blood samples. Then the first group quit drinking and the second group kept up with their normal drinking schedule, which, it being Britain, meant from 10 units of alcohol per week — the equivalent of about eight 12-ounce bottles of regular-strength beer — to 80 units, or 64 beers, per week. That might seem high, but people in the UK do drink more than the people here and the doctor supervising the experiment concluded that none of the participants were problem drinkers.)

Afterwards, a liver specialist from the University College London, poured (and the puns just keep on coming) over the results and found that in the group that gave up drinking, liver fat, a prime indicator for liver damage, fell by at least 15 percent! For some, it fell almost 20 percent!

Abstainers also saw their blood glucose levels — a key factor in determining diabetes risk — fall by an average of 16 percent.

Another liver specialist, Dr. James Ferguson, from Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital (who wasn’t involved in the experiment), said he wasn’t a bit surprised.

“If you take time off from alcohol, it’s going to be beneficial for your liver from the reduction of fat,” he said in an article for the publication, Salt. “People always forget the amount of calories in alcohol, so if you take a month off, and you usually consume 20 units, you’re going to lose weight and fat. It’s a massive reduction in calories.”

Ferguson points out that the main causes of excessive fat in the liver are obesity and excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol changes the way the liver processes fat, resulting in more fat cells that can cause inflammation, leading to liver disease.

A columnist for Slate, John Ore, has given up drinking for a month for the last eight years.

He started out the practice as a post-holiday cleanse, making up for the excesses of the holiday season. It also has proven to be a cheaper and easier way to get the benefits of going to a gym: feeling healthier, sleeping better, dropping a few pounds and, by avoiding gym membership fees, the abstinence has saved him money.

Ore, and his wife who joins him in Drynuary, don’t hideout for the month. They still meet friends in bars, go to parties and live a normal life. That is the part of the month they find particularly empowering. They could drink whenever they want to, but instead are going about their regular existence, just without alcohol.

Ore has made something of a cottage industry of this month of teetotaling (claiming he even invented the moniker “Drynaury”) and spends lots of time in this “dry period” writing about his experiences and soliciting others for how their own dry month is going.

(If you want to or share your experiences to this compendium of knowledge, comment on his blog Brow Beat or hit social media with the hastag #Drynuary.)

Also be sure to let me know how your dry spell goes. I’ll be sure to toast your sacrifice.

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