Dry January: Health benefits for your heart, skin and gut


Dry January is a challenge where participants quite alcohol for a month. Here is how you body will thank you for taking this up!

How does the idea of not touching an alcoholic drink for a month seem to you? Well, it’s not asking for too much, especially if it follows a season of revelry and celebrations! There are many people all over the world who quit alcohol consumption for the month of January, after days of partying into the New Year. The concept of Dry January has become quite popular globally, not only for the challenge it poses to people, but also for the multiple health benefits it brings with it.

From an improved metabolism to better sleep, Dry January has many healthy angles associated with it. To tell us about all these and more, Health Shots got in touch with Dr. Govind Nandakumar, Consultant – Surgical Gastroenterology, Laparoscopic GI, Onco Surgery.

What is Dry January?

Dry January, also called the ‘Dryanuary’ started in the United Kingdom in 2013 as a campaign where people pledged to abstain from alcohol for a month in January. “A decade later, Dry January has grown in popularity and many countries are now taking up the challenge of ‘No alcohol for a month’,” says Dr Nandakumar.

A woman making a heart with her hands
Quitting alcohol helps to keep blood pressure in check. Image courtesy: Freepik

How can leaving alcohol for a month affect your health?

If you are a regular drinker, participating in Dry January can instantly affect your liver and heart. According to a study published in Alcohol Research, moderate to heavy drinking can cause blood pressure to rise. In fact, it can even lead to blood vessels being damaged and abnormal heart rhythms. “Chronic consumption of alcohol is known to cause a cardiac condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM). ACM is characterised by impaired cardiac function due to dilation of the left ventricle, increased left ventricular mass, and heart failure,” explains Dr Nandakumar. He adds, “Cessation of alcohol can significantly improve the symptoms of ACM, and reduce blood pressure, and arrhythmias. Moreover, it can also help in reducing other cardiovascular diseases and stroke.”

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Also Read: If your idea of a good weekend involves a drink or two, then give into the trend of Dry January

As for your liver, another study, in Alcohol Research, points to the fact that drinking too much can cause liver disease. “The liver enzyme elevated by alcohol consumption begins to normalise. There can be a significant reduction in liver fat cells and inflammation,” explains Dr Nandakumar. If you have been diagnosed with severe alcoholic liver disease, although a complete recovery may not be possible, cessation of alcohol may significantly slow down and there may be a fault in further damage.

Other health benefits of leaving alcohol for a month

Besides working wonders for your heart and liver, following Dry January can help sort other health issues as well. Dr Nandakumar lists these out for us:

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1. Improved metabolic health and gut health

Giving up alcohol for a month can significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by reducing the body’s insulin resistance and promoting healthy sugar levels. It also results in reduced bloating, acidity, gastritis, and inflammation of the GI tract, thereby improving overall improved gut health.

2. Improved sleep

Alcohol is known to interfere with the actions of adenosine, disturb REM sleep, decrease sleep efficiency, and decrease sleep time. Not drinking alcohol for a month may improve your sleep quality, make your body well-rested, and keep you energised throughout the day.

Also Read: Too much alcohol can lead to hangxiety! Here’s how to get rid of it

3. A better mood

Chronic consumption of alcohol causes impairment in the neurotransmitter called GABA and causes its rapid rise and fall, leading to an emotional slump, mood changes, anxiety, chronic pains, and disturbed sleep. Abstaining from alcohol helps stabilise GABA neurotransmitters and thereby prevents any emotional slump or negative mood changes.

4. Helps in weight loss

When you refrain from alcohol, you automatically cut down on all those liquid calories and empty calories, helping you in your weight loss journey.

5. Better skin health

Alcohol is a potent diuretic, which means it causes frequent urination. In the absence of adequate water consumption, this may leave your body dehydrated, resulting in dry and dull-looking skin. Additionally, the toxins in alcohol also promote premature skin aging and make you look older than your age. These effects can be reversed by stopping alcohol consumption.

6. Reduced risk of cancer

This is a rather long term effect of leaving alcohol, but one that surely makes this abstinence wort it. Cessation of alcohol causes a reduction in certain cancer-related growth factors.

Why do you feel worse before you feel better when you quit alcohol?

Ceasing alcohol consumption can lead to the onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms vary depending on how often and what quantity of alcohol consumption you are used to  “In a majority of the cases, the alcohol withdrawal symptoms subside within 3-7 days of alcohol cessation, beyond which the positive signs of alcohol cessation become evident,” says Dr Nandakumar.

The onset of symptoms usually begins after a few hours of the last drink or the first 24 hours of giving up alcohol. “These may range from simple and mild symptoms such as anxiety, headache, sweating, and hand tremors to severe symptoms such as delirium tremens (DTs) that include symptoms such as seizures, hallucinations, and a substantial rise in heart rate and blood pressure are indicative of Delirium Tremens (DT) and require prompt medical intervention,” says Dr Nandakumar.

A woman smiling, lying down on her bed
Quitting alcohol can make you happier and sleep better. Image courtesy: Freepik

Can you make the benefits of Dry January last longer?

Yes, you can! You may realise that you don’t need alcohol in your life. “Putting a pause on your regular alcohol consumption by abstaining from alcohol for a month makes you realise you don’t have to reach out to a glass of wine to bury your everyday worries and manage stress. The realisation may become your motivation to not revert to alcohol consumption, thereby extending the benefits beyond January and making them long-lasting,” says Dr Nandakumar.

Also Read: Do you sweat after drinking alcohol? 7 reasons why it may happen

But, be careful

It is advisable that people who have been chronic consumers of heavy or more than recommended amounts of alcohol or people with severe alcohol dependence, should consult their doctors before taking up the Dry January challenge. People who experience any alcohol withdrawal symptoms should also promptly report to their doctors for better guidance on abstaining from alcohol.

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