Dry January is a public health challenge to give up alcohol for 31 days. It began as a campaign in the United Kingdom 10 year ago, but each year this initiative catches on with more Americans.
The initiative can help regular drinkers start the new year with a cleaner slate of health, according to Carman H. Whiting, MD, medical director for UT Physicians Multispecialty – Sienna and assistant professor of family medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.
“You can improve your health just from abstaining from alcohol for one month. People who go without it for four weeks can expect to experience some weight loss, better sleep, increased energy, and even better skin,” Whiting said. “Most of all, a Dry January can help your body recover by stabilizing blood sugars and repairing your liver.”To understand and appreciate the significance of a short breakup, Whiting believes regular drinkers should be aware of the effects of alcohol on the body. Regular consumption of beers, wines, and/or spirits may increase the risk of:
- Cancers: Alcohol is a carcinogen. Carcinogens block repairs to cellular damage and encourage cancer growth.
- Diabetes: Alcohol can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance may lead to Type 2 diabetes.
- Depression: Alcohol alters brain chemistry and can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Weight gain: Alcohol contains many empty calories. It also stimulates cortisol, which increases appetite.
- Dehydration: Alcohol can cause people to urinate more water than they can replace. It is a natural diuretic.
- Insomnia: Alcohol tends to wake a person after the body has metabolized it. It also induces sleep apnea.
Dry January is not just a way to cleanse the system and save calories and cash. It is also an opportunity to rethink drinking habits.
“After a Dry January, you may find that you’ve lost your craving for alcohol, or you may realize you don’t really need it to unwind after a long day,” Whiting said. “If you do experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, headaches, shaking, and vomiting, you should seek help from a doctor as soon as possible.”
For Dry January, also avoid sugary and/or caffeinated beverages, such as fruit juices, colas, and indulgent coffees.
“Instead of trading one high-calorie or high-carbohydrate drink for another, replenish your body with plenty of water. Water is still the best drink for your health,” she said. “If you need some flavor, add citrus or other fruits to your water, or try sparkling waters. Use this month to develop some healthier habits.”
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