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Every year more and more of us are giving up alcohol in support of campaigns such as MacMillan Cancer Support's Go Sober for October and Alcohol Change UK's Dry January.
In 2019 over four million people participated in Dry January, and in 2017 75,000 people signed up for Sober October, raising a whopping £5 million for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Giving up alcohol for a month at any time of the year can come with significant health benefits. Here’s just a few reasons why ditching drink can make you feel happier and healthier…
Giving up alcohol can make us more intelligent
And we’re not just talking about eliminating the silly things we do when we’re drunk! Alcohol has a detrimental effect on brain function, with research showing that having five or more drinks in one night can affect our cognitive function for up to three days.
Long term heavy drinking can shrink the frontal lobes of the brain, impairing our thinking skills, and prolonged drinking can inhibit the brain’s ability to repair itself.
So the smart thing to do would be to have a break from the booze, using Sober October as an excuse to start!
It can help you lose weight
Alcohol slows down the metabolism. Our body breaks down alcohol first, so when we have a night on the lash followed by a sneaky kebab, the drink in our system slows down our body’s processing of the fats and sugar we have consumed.
In fact, at 7 calories per gram, alcohol contains almost twice the amount of calories found in carbohydrates.
Scary enough stats to make you want to consider giving up alcohol for a while…
It prevents our body from absorbing more vitamins and minerals
Alcohol kills the cells in our stomach lining and intestines that facilitate the body’s absorption of nutrients, and can also inhibit the transportation of nutrients into our blood stream.
Since alcohol itself is basically just empty calories, heavy drinking depletes the body’s store of vitamins and minerals such as iron or calcium that can lead to many other complications, like anaemia.
So don’t kid yourself into thinking a kale salad for dinner will counteract a bottle of bubbly, since your body won’t be absorbing those all important vitamins.
Giving up alcohol improves your sleep quality
Giving up alcohol can help you wave goodbye to the bags under your eyes.
According to Jason Ellis, Director of Northumbria Centre for Sleep Research, alcohol can disrupt the two most important parts of our sleep; Slow Wave Sleep, which is the part that physically refreshes us the most, and REM sleep, which is the part that helps us learn and remember.
So it seems that giving up alcohol can lead to a clear improvement in the quality of your sleep, making us look and feel brighter and more alert.
You’ll be better hydrated
Have you ever wondered why alcohol seems to make us need the loo so badly?
Research shows that alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it affects the kidneys and makes you urinate much more than you actually take in. It also inhibits the kidneys’ production of the hormone vasopressin, which encourages your body to re-absorb water as opposed to sending it straight to the bladder to be flushed out.
The headaches and ‘dry as a desert’ mouth the morning after are just some of the physical effects of dehydration, which also causes our skin to look dull and lifeless, and darkens the circles under our eyes.
So swap the wine for water for a more radiant, healthier you!
Giving up alcohol can reduce the amount of fat in your liver
According to studies, giving up alcohol for one month can lead to a 15% decrease in the amount of fat in your liver.
This can prevent diseases including liver cancer, and also stop us from feeling sluggish. Research suggests that our skin reflects the quality of our liver, so a month off the booze will help clear any post-Christmas pimples.
It significantly lowers your sugar intake
A vodka and cranberry costs us a massive seven and a half teaspoons, while a rum and coke adds up to seven teaspoons. Even the slimmer’s favourite G&T racks up a costly 4 teaspoons (that’s 36% of your daily intake!). The proverb ‘cider makes you wider’ stands true to its word, with a pint of the stuff containing five teaspoons.
White wine is our friend at just one teaspoon per small glass, and beer and red wine triumph with only half a teaspoon (but just how many are you having?!) Nonetheless, giving up alcohol significantly lowers our sugar intake, preventing energy dips, rotting teeth and weight gain.
Furthermore, sugar damages the collagen in our skin that keeps it looking young, so giving up alcohol can be better than any expensive anti-ageing cream.
It can lead to a better sex life
Research suggests that alcohol can be a bit of a double-edged sword in the bedroom… On the one hand, it can enhance our libido, but at the same time it reduces our ability to perform.
Alcohol works by inhibiting parts of our central nervous system (CNS), which may give us that extra confidence boost after a glass or two, but it also dulls the sensitivity of our nerve endings, which are important for sexual arousal and orgasm.
Plus, the dehydrating effect of our favourite tipple means that with less volume of liquid in the body, men are faced with the infamous struggle to ‘get it up’, and even women experience reduced lubrication.
So swap liquor for lingerie this month and if your October has to be dry, at least your sex life won’t be!
Your skin will look clearer and more radiant
From falling asleep with your make up on after a glass too many to the bags under your eyes the morning after, alcohol has certainly gained a reputation as a baddy when it comes to having a healthy complexion.
Alcohol increases your blood flow and causes your blood vessels to dilate – and this increased flow to the skin’s surface can make you look red and blotchy for days. It can also cause your face to become puffy as fluid leeks from the blood vessels.
The dehydrating effect of booze can also cause dry patches of skin, and the oil our skin produces to re-hydrate itself may even cause a breakout. That’s not to mention the ageing effects of the sugar in alcohol, which breaks down the collagen in skin, and the depletion of vitamins that slows down cell renewal, giving our skin a grey appearance.
It reduces your risk of heart disease
Alcohol raises our blood pressure both temporarily and permanently, and excessive alcohol consumption over a long time can lead to high blood pressure, which is one of the main causes of heart disease.
Furthermore, the high amount of calories in alcohol can increase the amount of cholesterol in our arteries, heightening the risk of a heart-attack causing blockage. In fact, research even shows that alcohol can make our heart beat irregularly, a condition known as Holiday Heart Syndrome, changing our blood pressure and increasing our chances of having a heart attack.
So don’t be fooled into thinking the antioxidants in a daily glass of red are good for the heart – swap the wine for a green tea to make sure your circulatory system stays healthy.
It will keep your tummy happy
Giving up alcohol won’t just make your tummy look flatter on the outside, research also shows it will make it happier on the inside too.
In short, alcohol irritates the digestive system, causing the stomach to increase acid production and producing symptoms such as indigestion and diarrhoea. Heavy drinking can worsen your symptoms if you suffer from IBS, and even rates as one of the main causes of bowel cancer.
While some recommend a carb-rich meal to line your stomach, or even a spoonful of olive oil before hitting the town, research proves that alcohol inhibits our digestive system, so our dinner won’t even make it into our systems!
It will boost your immune system
We’ve all tried to flog having a bad hangover as genuinely being ill, but it turns out that there may be a scientific correlation between a binge drinking and susceptibility to illness.
Research shows that alcohol can start depleting our immune system just 20 minutes after that first drink, and the negative effects can last up to several days after consumption, way after alcohol is no longer detectable in our blood stream.
A heavy night inhibits the functioning of our infection-fighting monocytes, making us all the more susceptible to those winter viruses and colds. A month off alcohol can make sure our immune system is on top form.
It can reduce your risk of breast cancer
Recent studies have pointed to a correlation between drinking alcohol and having a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
This is because alcohol can break down into a molecule called acetaldehyde, which causes the mutations in our cells that can form cancerous tumours.
It is also suggested that alcohol increases our oestrogen production, which may cause cancerous cells to multiply quicker.
Putting down the bottle is said to reduce our risk of developing breast cancer, as excessive consumption makes up about 4% of the risk of breast cancer developing in countries like the UK.
Your mood will be consistently better
Although having a drink might temporarily make us feel better, alcohol is in fact a depressant, which means it changes the delicate balance of chemicals in our brain.
Research shows that heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters that are responsible for our mental health, and has even been found to lower the levels of serotonin in our brain that help regulate our mood.
Giving up the stuff will prevent those major ups and downs in our mood.
It will improve your memory
The effects of alcohol on our memory go much deeper than having no recollection of the night before, since studies show that alcohol inhibits the functioning of the hippocampus – that’s the part of the brain responsible for creating and saving memories.
So even when you haven’t touched the drink, recalling trivial things such as what you had for dinner the day before may become difficult.
A month off will help your brain cells to repair and make sure you’re not getting old before your time!
Are you planning to go sober this October? For more information on how to ditch alcohol, visit the MacMillan Cancer Support Go Sober for October website.