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Dry January vs Damp January - which is better for you?

Every January, more and more people pledge to give up alcohol for the month after a busy festive period but is it actually better for you than just cutting down on your alcohol intake?

Every January, millions of people looking to give themselves a break from alcohol after a busy festive period sign up to take part in Dry January – an annual movement through which participants give up alcohol for 31 days.

Although a month of the booze can bring a shed load of health benefits, save you some well-needed pennies after an expensive Christmas and help you lose the extra few lbs you’ve gained post-December, research has shown that contrary to widespread belief, going completely dry in January to then revert to your former drinking habits isn’t doing your body that much good, making a damp January sound a lot more appealing (1).

The term – damp January has been gaining a lot more traction this year, with many deciding that instead of committing to 31 days sober, it’s a lot more realistic to avoid unnecessary drinking and make a pledge to cut down on their alcohol intake.

Let’s take a deeper look at both of the January challenges.

There is evidence to suggest that a month of abstinence from booze can do your body and mind some good, especially if you are someone who enjoys a glass of wine or two each evening. A recent study published in the BMJ found 31 days alcohol-free had a notable effect on health (2).

The study followed 94 moderate-to-heavy drinkers who consumed an average of 30 units per week (more than double the recommended limit of 14 units a week for both men and women) whilst they gave up drinking for January. Blood tests taken at the end of the month showed a reduction of blood cancer proteins along with other health benefits, like lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and a reduced risk of diabetes (2).

An alcohol-free month can also have a longer-term effect on drinking habits for many people. In 2018, a study of more than 800 Dry January participants found that 70% of people who completed a full month were still drinking less seven months later. The average number of drinking days per week dropped from 4.3 to 3.3 from January to August and units consumed per drinking day dropped on average from 8.6 to 7.1 (3).

However, according to research by the psychology department at UCL, it takes an average of 66 days to form new habits, which means 30-day abstinence is likely to be just that: a one-off (4). And, while the benefits of undertaking Dry January cannot be disputed, once completed it often gives people the green light to binge on alcohol for the remaining eleven months of the year.

Whereas, damp January is perhaps a more tempting option for those looking to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol in the long term. Drink Aware, the UK-wide alcohol education charity supports the concept of limiting alcohol intake instead of complete deprivation. They believe that cutting down on the amount of alcohol you drink as opposed to completely cutting it out can bring lots of health benefits, and can be easier to stick to.

If you are looking to develop a healthier lifestyle and a better relationship with alcohol it is best to avoid beers and spirits due to their calorific content and high alcohol concentration, however, emerging research continues to suggest that drinking wine in moderation — about a glass per day — offers a multitude of health benefits (5).

Potential health benefits of drinking wine

  • Rich in antioxidants - grapes contain high levels of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation (6). A  2-week study of 40 adults found that consuming 13.5 ounces (400 ml) of red wine daily increased antioxidant status (7).
  • May benefit heart health - researchers believe that red wine’s high concentration of polyphenol antioxidants can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and metabolic diseases (8).
  • May promote longevity - it has been found that drinking moderate amounts of wine as part of a healthy diet may increase longevity (9).


It seems that both dry January and damp January can bring many health and wellness benefits, making both of the challenges sound tempting if you are looking to reset your relationship with alcohol and lead a healthier lifestyle this New Year. What is important is ensuring you follow the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guideline for the remainder of the year. It is advised that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week regularly for both men and women.

Get Medichecked


If you are worried about the impact a busy festive period filled with excess drinking could have had on your overall health particularly your liver, our Liver Check is an easy and convenient way to examine liver enzymes such as gamma GT (GGT) and alanine transferase (ALT) which can be raised if the liver is damaged. This test is ideal for those who want to find out if their lifestyle is damaging their liver. Cutting down on alcohol, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly are all ways to improve liver health.

Although yes, it is good to check the health of our liver after a period of heavy drinking, it is also necessary to see if our usual drinking habits are having a negative effect to allow us to make any necessary changes before things get worse.

For a comprehensive picture of your inner health, our Well Man Ultravit and Well Woman Ultravit tests are on offer for just £119 until the end of January. Both include a liver check along with many other tests including diabetes and heart disease risk, a cholesterol status and vitamins D, B12 and folate.


References


1. Hamilton, I. (2019). Ian Hamilton: Dry January is no match for the growing harms of alcohol consumption - The BMJ. [online] The BMJ. Available at: https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2019/01/04/ian-hamilton-dry-january-no-match-growing-harms-alcohol-consumption/ [Accessed 15 Jan. 2020].
2. Mehta, G., Macdonald, S., Cronberg, A., Rosselli, M., Khera-Butler, T., Sumpter, C., Al-Khatib, S., Jain, A., Maurice, J., Charalambous, C., Gander, A., Ju, C., Hakan, T., Sherwood, R., Nair, D., Jalan, R. and Moore, K. (2018). Short-term abstinence from alcohol and changes in cardiovascular risk factors, liver function tests and cancer-related growth factors: a prospective observational study. BMJ Open, 8(5), p.e020673.
3. Ford, A. (2019). How ‘Dry January’ is the secret to better sleep, saving money and losing weight. [online] The University of Sussex. Available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/47131 [Accessed 15 Jan. 2020].
4. Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H. and Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), pp.998-1009.
5. Fehér, J., Lengyel, G. and Lugasi, A. (2005). The cultural history of wine - theoretical background to wine therapy. Open Medicine, 2(4).
6. Copetti, C., Franco, F., Machado, E., Soquetta, M., Quatrin, A., Ramos, V., Moreira, J., Emanuelli, T., Sautter, C. and Penna, N. (2018). Acute Consumption of Bordo Grape Juice and Wine Improves Serum Antioxidant Status in Healthy Individuals and Inhibits Reactive Oxygen Species Production in Human Neuron-Like Cells. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2018, pp.1-11.
7. Micallef, M., Lexis, L. and Lewandowski, P. (2007). Red wine consumption increases antioxidant status and decreases oxidative stress in the circulation of both young and old humans. Nutrition Journal, 6(1).
8. Castaldo, Narváez, Izzo, Graziani, Gaspari, Minno and Ritieni (2019). Red Wine Consumption and Cardiovascular Health. Molecules, 24(19), p.3626.
9. Giacosa, A., Barale, R., Bavaresco, L., Faliva, M., Gerbi, V., La Vecchia, C., Negri, E., Opizzi, A., Perna, S., Pezzotti, M. and Rondanelli, M. (2014). Mediterranean Way of Drinking and Longevity. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 56(4), pp.635-640.