Long has medical science focused on the more extreme levels of alcohol abuse and addiction, calling to mind the late American poet Charles Bukowski’s literary celebration of what many experts call a disease. The singular focus has left many questions about the health repercussions of moderate drinking, some say.
In a small informal study, New Scientist journalist Andy Coghlan finds that moderate drinkers may gain significant health benefits from just a month of abstinence from alcohol. Coghlan ginned up the study by recruiting nine colleagues, self-described as “normal drinkers,” to participate in an annual abstinence challenge held in the United Kingdom: “Janopause.” Within the study group, some participants continued to drink normally while others abstained completely from alcohol for the month.
Surprisingly, Coghlan found results that contradicted the opinions of many liver experts, who maintain that abstinence among moderate drinkers confers no benefit to health, The Daily Mail reported Sunday. Clinicians at Royal Free Hospital in London who tested the participants found that liver fat levels fell by 15 percent on average among those abstaining from booze, indicating recovery on the part of the liver. Those who quit alcohol for the five-week study period lost 3.3 pounds on average while cholesterol and glucose levels dropped by five percent and 15 percent, respectively.
As an ancillary benefit, the teetotallers also reported feeling more alert at work. “If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in,” liver health expert Kevin Moore said.
Rajiv Jalan, a professor at University College London, helped the science journalist with the study, but wondered how quickly the newfound health benefits would dissipate with a return to drinking. Yet, even a brief abstinence from drinking would allow the liver a respite “to tolerate future insult better,” he said.
However, the liver is not exactly like a savings account, with deposits covering future withdrawals. Coghlan said the moderate drinkers should not get the wrong message: “That giving your liver a month-long holiday means you can go crazy for the rest of the year.”
Long besotted by alcohol, the U.K. routinely deploys military medical assets throughout the country for New Year’s Eve, treating the annual drinking holiday much like a public health emergency as thousands of revelers in large cities are treated for alcohol poisoning and injuries from fights and falls. Annually, the government spends nearly $6 billion on related health care costs, with another $18 billion for crime related to alcohol abuse. Lost productivity from hungover and absent workers costs the nation another $12 billion, according to the U.K. National Health Service. Similarly, the United States loses more than $223.5 billion per year in economic costs from alcohol, which does not include the social costs of excessive drinking.