Well, it’s a week to go until the end of January. So far I’m managing to do what I’ve only managed once before, which is not to drink alcohol for the whole month.
Like a lot of people, I make New Year’s resolutions, and one of them is always to be healthier. To promise to do more exercise, and eat more healthily, but the main one is always to not drink alcohol until the end of January.
There are various names for this no alcohol in January business, but my favourite is “Janopause”. I’m not sure why I like it so much; maybe because it is so stupid.
Other names for no alcohol in January include “Dry January”, “Sober January” (both boring) and “Dryatholon”, (which I’ve just found out about and I love it).
January is a great month
Alcohol, or no alcohol, I always love it when January comes around. January is the month for optimism, because you can make plans for the year to come in the hope and belief that this year is going to be better than all those that came before it.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, it’s the first month when you can see it starting to stay light for a little longer in the evening, and start to get light earlier in the morning. In England, where I live, the weather tends to be cold and bright, which makes me feel great.
All of this has to be good for your state of mind, and it can be enjoyed more with the clear head that comes from avoiding alcohol. A sensible diet can also help, and not drinking alcohol makes this easer too.
Benefits of the Janopause
For years our friends in the medical profession have been telling us that giving up alcohol for a month brought no health benefits.
Their concerns seem to be that:
- If you are giving up alcohol for a month you must have a drink problem
- Giving up alcohol for a month would make you think you can drink to excess the rest of the year
- It brings no health benefits
What do you think? It looks like nonsense to me!
Doing the Janopause means you have a drink problem?
Maybe people who do think that they drink too much want to cut down and not drinking in January is a good way to do that.
If you drink too much it may be that you are in the habit of drinking, and all the cues that trigger the desire for a drink have been set up. Things like finishing work, having dinner, going out with your friends, or even watching TV can make you think of having a drink.
Going a month without drinking means that you are doing all of these things without having a drink, and that lets you build new habits so these cues trigger the desire.
When it gets to the end of January it’s easier to decide if you want to have a drink in these situation, rather than just sleepwalking into it. The drinking habits can be established again very easily, but it does give you a little more control over things, at least to begin with.
The Janopause makes you drink too much the rest of the year?
After having a dry January maybe you might feel better about drinking excessively for the rest of the year. But is it really going to make you drink more that you would have without a dry January? I doubt it.
Also, if you have avoided drinking alcohol for a month it should have given your liver a rest from alcohol. This is likely to help it recover from any problems brought on from heavy drinking leading up to the end of December.
The Janopause has no health benefits?
One of the reasons that the medical profession doesn’t think that there aren’t many health benefits to the Janopause is that they can’t see that there is any evidence. Medicine is heavily influenced by experimental research, and without this they usually won’t accept something can be helpful.
They don’t often look at anecdotal evidence, where people report feeling better, or that they are drinking less, or whatever it is. But common sense tells us this is important.
And if giving up alcohol for the first month of every year makes you feel better and helps you lose a little weight what’s the problem with that.
Until recently most of the experimental research on alcohol abstinence looked at heavy drinkers, but now scientists are starting to look at the effects in moderate drinkers.
What alcohol does to your liver
Your liver the is the main organ that breaks down chemicals in the body, which is sometimes called detoxification.
When the liver breaks down alcohol it converts it to a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is toxic. This is the reason why drinking excessive alcohol damages your liver and can cause liver cirrhosis – your liver is damaged by the toxin that it produce from the excess alcohol. Cirrhosis is where the healthy liver cells are killed and replaced by scar tissue, which obviously doesn’t function like normal liver tissue.
As the alcohol is broken down further the resulting chemicals increase fat production in the liver. One of the signs that you are drinking excessively is a fatty liver, which can lead on to liver disease. Fatty liver can go back to normal if you reduce your alcohol intake.
Research on the Janopause
There are studies going on in London at the moment to look at the benefits of not drinking alcohol for a month in healthy people who only drink moderately. You can read about an early pilot of the study, and see the results in chart format.
Although not what the medical profession would call conclusive evidence, the results are pretty striking.
Here’s a summary or what happened to healthy people after a month of not drinking (compared to healthy people who carried drinking).
Liver fat fell by 15%, and since fat buildup in the liver can lead to serious liver disease, this should reduce the risk.
Blood glucose levels were lowered, which suggests that not drinking alcohol helps us to control our blood glucose levels more effectively. Loss of this ability to control blood glucose is what happens when people develop type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Blood cholesterol was also lowered by a month off alcohol. Blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, so this is good news too.
They also lost a little bit of weight.
So a month of no alcohol produces changes that are likely to improve your health.
It’s not just measurable physical changes either. The people who didn’t drink for a month reported that they slept better, felt more awake during the day, could concentrate better and perform better at work.
The elephant in the bar room
There’s an elephant in the room here. If a month of no alcohol produces these wonderful results, surely not drinking alcohol at all would be even better?
Well, yes I think no alcohol at all probably would be better for your health. But a little bit, from time to time, in the right circumstances can certainly make life better. In my humble opinion.