Health Really Blossoms Beyond Dry January
Giving in to a Dry January may feel wonderful, but going sober beyond Dry January could significantly drop your risk of developing multiple types of cancer. So says a new World Health Organization (WHO) study of studies.
In a massive meta-analysis of 91 studies, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported by The Messenger’s Mansur Shaheen, researchers found long term sobriety could significantly reduce risk of oral or esophageal cancer. They also found relatively small and inconclusive drops in larynx, colorectal or breast cancer risk.
The WHO considers alcohol a carcinogen, saying that “when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.”
The WHO says that even light use of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of a host of diseases, including cancer, liver issues, Alzheimer’s and more.
On the flip side, quitting alcohol can help a person reduce their risk of developing disease. For instance, the WHO researchers found that people who stopped drinking for five to nine years were 34% less likely to develop oral cancer. If they kept it up for 10 to 19 years, the risk would drop by 55%.
For esophageal cancer, the risk drops 15% after going sober for five to nine years, and 65% for 10 to 19 years.
Those are huge residuals. And all it takes is simply going sober.
The researchers blame the cancers linked to alcohol consumption on ethanol, a type of alcohol. When the body consumes the substance, it is broken down to acetaldehyde, a substance that damages the DNA and its repair functions, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC directly links alcohol consumption to mouth, throat, larynx, esophageal, colorectal, liver and breast cancer.
Long-Term Benefits Beyond Dry January
According to The Messenger’s Alex Leeds Matthews maybe taking just a month off won’t make much difference. But recent research has examined the impact of Dry January specifically on moderate drinkers’ health and found some benefits.
“It may not be the best way to target all the resources to counteract alcohol-related harm,” said Gautam Mehta, an L.A.-based neurosurgeon who’s affiliated with the University Of Virginia Medical Center. “But what we did show is that it does allow people that opportunity to reset a little bit.”
Mehta’s 2018 study found that a group of people participating in Dry January had improved insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, weight loss and fewer cancer growth factors in their blood, compared with people who continued drinking.
Mehta noted that it’s difficult to disentangle the effects of temporary sobriety from other self-improvement people engage in at the start of the year, but the study controlled for the effects of changes in diet and exercise. The researchers also followed up with participants six months after the dry month and found that they had maintained lower alcohol use, and anecdotally, participants reported better concentration and sleep, Mehta said.
These initial health effects may lead to more long-term lifestyle changes.
“The impact on sleep and concentration typically occur fairly rapidly, and this is often an unexpected ‘win’ that helps to encourage people to continue,” said University of Sussex’s Richard de Visser, a psychologist who studies Dry January and other temporary abstinence efforts.