Alcohol: Better without it in dry January | Health


Three weeks without a drop of alcohol. Three weeks during which I felt more awake, fitter and more relaxed. What exactly happened in my body? I get up at 5:30 a.m., answering my son’s lively questions after a round of exercise, before he goes to school and I head to work. For three weeks, this routine has been easier for me than ever before. Coincidentally, these were the three weeks in which I completely abstained from alcohol.

Many of us will be doing 'dry January,' but how does abstaining from alcohol change our bodies?(imago images/Westend61)
Many of us will be doing ‘dry January,’ but how does abstaining from alcohol change our bodies?(imago images/Westend61)

Neither I nor Helmut Karl Seitz, director of the Center for Alcohol Research in Heidelberg, think this is a coincidence. A professor of internal medicine and gastroenterology, Seitz is certain that a lot has changed in my body during these three weeks. My son is an early riser, but the fact that I spring out of bed even before him might be related to the fact that I can sleep much better without alcohol. “Alcohol activates catecholamines, including adrenaline. This prevents proper rest at night,” explained Seitz.

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No alcohol, no complaints

After just one week, the sleep pattern normalizes, said Seitz, who emphasized that we are not talking about alcohol-dependent individuals, but those who just occasionally or regularly consume alcohol. “You are not a chronic drinker,” Seitz told me several times, a verdict that gives me some joy — I was not so sure.

But abstinence was not difficult for me at all, probably because I felt so comfortable. Apart from sleep, the blood pressure also normalizes, said Seitz. Alcohol raises blood pressure, typically causing headaches and dizziness. Those who abstain from alcohol can also look forward to better digestion. “Proteins in the villi of the small intestine break down the food. These proteins recover relatively quickly,” said Seitz. Harmony in the gastrointestinal tract certainly makes life more enjoyable.

Not to forget: The liver. Abstaining from alcohol is like a wellness vacation for our detoxification organ. Beer, wine and spirits cause the liver to accumulate fat. Seitz explains that initially, fat accumulation isn’t so bad, but it’s the first step toward liver hardening — so-called cirrhosis. My liver has always lived quietly and inconspicuously within me, and I couldn’t feel any changes. “Regardless of the stage the liver is in, whether it is only slightly fatty or has advanced fibrosis: if you abstain from alcohol, it is always good for the liver, always. It will recover,” said Seitz.

No alcohol is also (not) a solution

I told him that I broke my fast after three weeks and a few days with a friend and a wine spritzer. Surprisingly, I found the feeling of slight intoxication more unpleasant than amusing. And even thinking about working out the next day at 5:30 a.m. was out of the question. “The metabolic processes that break down alcohol no longer occur automatically for you,” the alcohol researcher explained. The metabolism of a trained drinker knows what to do, but my metabolism had difficulty remembering after the alcohol pause.

For future wine evenings, Seitz recommended what I try to drill into myself mantra-like every time: Drink enough water! Alcohol dehydrates the body, circulation worsens and headaches are guaranteed. I should also stick to the recommended amount of alcohol, of course. For men, no more than a quarter liter of wine per day is recommended. Women are allowed only half of that. That’s not even a glass! I wonder if drinking is even worth it anymore. The next round of abstention will surely not be long in coming.

The article was originally written in German.

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