It’s not that uncommon to hear people proclaim “that’s me done now for a month” whilst finishing their final New Years Eve drink. In more recent years however, the same practice has also been popular in October, as charities like Macmillan encourage fundraising through campaigns that challenge participants to give up alcohol for a month. ‘Go Sober for October’ or ‘Stoptober’, is a great cause that raises a lot of money, but did you know that such short term abstinence could do more harm than good?
More than a month
In order to reap the real health benefits associated with being on the wagon, the body needs a more prolonged break – 6 months or more to be precise! There are however a number of other benefits associated with alcohol avoidance, some of which you may not have considered.
For starters, there is the weight gain because alcohol really does help people to pile on the pounds! If for example you were to consume 10 pints of beer each week, an additional 120,000 calories would be consumed over the course of a year.
Given that 1lb of fat typically contains 3500 calories, your net fat gain each year would be about 3.4 pounds. 10 pints of beer in a week is by no means excessive by average standards. When we extrapolate this trend over a 10 year period, this 3.4 pounds equates to 34 pounds, or around 2 ½ stones of fat! Over time, it becomes impossible for even the fastest metabolism to burn this amount of surplus energy off.
Alcohol is densely packed with energy and each gram contains around 7 kcal. Unlike carbohydrates, fats and protein however, alcohol has little nutritional value and cannot be used directly as an energy source. (Source: Health and Fitness Education, 2013. Nutrition for Physical Activity Level 3)
Another factor contributing to weight gain is the eating practices commonly associated with alcohol consumption. A typical Saturday night out is likely to conclude in a kebab shop or Indian restaurant for many of today’s youth. Aside from the complete lack of nutritional value and the sheer number of additives and preservatives, kebabs are bad news! A single kebab could contain as many as 2000 calories, which when consumed on top of excessive amounts of alcohol could see a person’s daily energy needs grossly exceeded.
Look After Your Liver
Dr Nick Sheron, a liver specialist at Southampton University explains how alcohol can affect your metabolic rate. “Regular drinking induces certain enzymes in your liver that metabolise alcohol. If you drink heavily, over weeks or months, levels of these enzymes will increase and your tolerance builds”. He explains, “if you stop drinking completely, the enzyme levels go back down” this allows your liver a chance to repair itself and replace any damaged cells which may have been caused by alcohol.”
Clearly moderate alcohol consumption will be better for the body than binge drinking because the body has time and resources to mitigate the alcoholic toxins. That’s right- toxin! From a biochemical perspective, alcohol is a poison that has no nutritional value whatsoever!
There are also tremendous benefits to the skin by not drinking alcohol because the body seeks to excrete the alcoholic toxins out through this organ. Alcohol is a diuretic that strips the body and its cells of water, inducing dehydration! The skin is the body’s largest organ and it is here that the effects of excessive alcohol consumption become most visible. The skin is sapped of vital nutrients, which subsequently causes it to become dry and tight; externally this will cause it to appear blotchy, spotty and weathered.
We’ve all heard the expression “that an apple a day will keep the doctor away” and this phrase also has some relevance to alcohol consumption, although not literally! Clearly, 7 apples on a Sunday wouldn’t provide the same benefits as a single apple consumed on seven individual days.
The same is true for alcohol; drinking one’s so-called ‘allowance’ in a single session or day is likely to have greater adverse consequences than drinking smaller quantities more frequently. In fact, Professor Charles Bamforth of the University of California, states “many people don’t realise that drinking in moderation has significant health benefits. You are seriously mistaken if you think that having a month without alcohol will protect you from the effects of excessive consumption for the rest of the year. The best advice is to drink moderately throughout the year.”