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The benefits of not drinking alcohol are significant - ditching the drink will dramatically boost your mind, mood and general health.
Making the decision on giving up alcohol can initially seem like a huge life change for some. But with a plethora of positives to your body - be that to your brain, your organs, or simply saying goodbye to googling how to prevent a hangover and the negative effects of alcohol on skin - it’s safe to say it’s one that very few people go back on.
“Quitting or cutting back on alcohol, combined with a healthy lifestyle, will greatly reduce your risk of developing a serious disease,” explains GP, Dr Hemal Shah. “In fact, drinking more than 14 units a week for 10-20 years increases your risk of developing serious illnesses, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, liver and brain disease.”
Benefits of not drinking alcohol
1. Ditching alcohol is better for our brains
It's hardly a surprise to learn that the classic signs of drunkenness - including slurred speech, poor memory and slower reflexes - are all the result of alcohol’s impact on the mind.
Research from the University of Boston unpicks this, with their study finding that alcohol blocks the chemical signals (neurons) between brain cells. And this in turn triggers these common side effects.
One alarming University of Tasmania study also showed that long term heavy drinking can shrink the frontal lobes of our brain and impair our thinking skills.
"Alcohol can have an effect on our brain's ability to function in the correct way, slowing down motor functions, memory and speech," explains Dr Dan Bunstone, a GP and Chief Medical Officer at Push Doctor. "Reducing your consumption will have a profound effect on your ability to make rational decisions and allow your brain to function in the normal, healthy way.”
Indeed research has shown that the brain can completely re-heal the damage done by alcohol when people go cold turkey.
One German study found that lost gray matter (responsible for processing information in the brain) began regenerating in alcoholics after two weeks of abstinence. And that brain tissue also increased after subjects gave up alcohol for three months in one 2011 study.
2. Alcohol use is linked to Dementia
Dr Shah, lead GP at digital health service Livi, tells us that not drinking alcohol is a no-brainer(!). Especially when it is linked to upping our chances of developing brain-related diseases like dementia.
“Excessive alcohol consumption over a lengthy period of time can lead to brain damage and may increase your risk of developing dementia” he tells us.
And he’s not wrong, with one five-year study presenting some scary statistics. Researchers observed French hospital admissions between 2008 and 2013. And found that of those diagnosed with early-onset dementia, 38.9% of the cases were related to alcohol and alcohol misuse.
Canadian researchers similarly found that alcohol contributed to roughly 29% of all dementia cases in a 2012 University of Montreal study.
3. Not drinking alcohol can help you lose weight
Alcohol does no good to our waistlines - being both high in calories and something that slows down the metabolism. Many diets that work fast to help people lose weight include ditching alcohol all together.
At 7 calories per gram on average, alcohol contains almost twice the amount of calories found in carbohydrates. Unless you’re opting for low calorie versions such as low calorie wine or low calorie beer.
Dr Dan explains the science behind the 'beer belly': “Alcohol is very high in calories that don’t provide any nutritional value,” he tells us. “Your body will always prioritise getting rid of empty calories first. And this means that lots of other important processes have to wait, including burning off fat.
“So while your body is busy getting rid of the calories from all the alcohol you’ve drunk, any excess fat has nowhere to go but your waistline.”
Indeed, one study has shown that heavy alcohol consumption was a huge contributor to abdominal obesity. So, ditching the drink could help you lose belly fat and the pounds overall. Just another one of the great benefits to not drinking alcohol.
4. Alcohol prevents our body from absorbing more vitamins and minerals
We can all make the effort to eat a healthy breakfast and a salad here or there. But did you know that a few too many tipples everyday can affect the nutrients you reap from your food?
Research by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that chronic drinkers showed “evidence of malnutrition” and bodies lacking in “amino acids, proteins and certain vitamins”.
The acidity in alcohol is bad for gut health, killing cells in our stomach lining and intestines that facilitate the body’s absorption of nutrients. It can also hinder the transportation of nutrients into our bloodstream.
“Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to depletion of essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function healthily,” adds Dr Dan. “Vitamins that are often reduced due to excessive alcohol consumption include vitamin C, calcium, zinc and iron. With reduction leading to a number of issues including weakness of bones, chronic fatigue, anaemia, dehydration and mental health issues.”
So don’t kid yourself into thinking a kale salad for dinner will counteract a bottle of bubbly.
5. Ditching alcohol improves your sleep quality
This one can be quite confusing. After all, most of us treat ourselves to a huge lie-in after a night out. But as Dr Dan explains, it’s very much a case of quality over quantity with sleep. And alcohol significantly hinders our slumber quality.
“Alcohol disrupts your natural sleep pattern, so you’ll spend less time in the ‘deep sleep’ stage, where your body does lots of its refreshing and recharging. Instead, you’ll spend longer in the ‘REM sleep’ stage, where vivid dreams occur and your brain is very active.”
One American study found that alcohol contributes to sleep deprivation and aids tiredness the day after a night on the booze. Thus explaining the side of exhaustion that normally accompanies our heavy hangover.
6. You'll be better hydrated
Do you ever wonder why a booze night out with friends include several trip to the ladies room?
One study in the Journal of Physiology shows that alcohol is a diuretic. And this basically means that it affects the kidneys and makes you urinate much more than you actually take in.
Alcohol also inhibits the kidneys’ production of the hormone vasopressin, says Dr Dan, which instructs them to re-absorb water, as opposed to sending it straight to the bladder to be flushed out.
“It shows why it’s a good idea to drink water during the evening,” he adds. “It might seem counterproductive if you’re already going to the toilet a lot, but it’ll definitely help in the battle against dehydration.”
Headaches and ‘dry as a desert’ mouth the morning after are just some of the physical effects of dehydration. But alcohol also causes our skin to look dull and lifeless, and causes dark circles under eyes the next day.
7. Not drinking alcohol can reduce the amount of fat in your liver
Our liver bears the brunt of the work when it comes to breaking down alcohol. So it’s no real surprise that excessive drinking can lead to liver problems.
Dr Dan warns of cirrhosis, a very serious form of liver damage that leads to scar tissue which prevents it from working properly. It includes symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, yellow skin and in extreme cases coughing up blood.
This is often the result of long-term liver damage though, with the first stage of liver disease being a buildup of fat from breaking down the alcohol.
“A healthy liver should contain a small amount of fat,” explains Dr Shah. “Excessive alcohol intake can lead to alcohol-related fatty liver disease, but this is often reversible and can improve. Stopping alcohol for two weeks allows the liver time to recover, stop the inflammation and reduce the fatty deposits.”
8. Your skin will look clearer and more radiant
From falling asleep with your makeup on after a glass too many. To the dull, grey complexion the day after. Alcohol has a reputation for wrecking even the best-kept skincare regime.
“If you’re dehydrated, it’s likely that you’ll get dry skin, which can occasionally lead to further skin problems,” says Dr Dan. “If you regularly fall asleep before you take your makeup off, this can clog your pores and trigger conditions such as acne.”
Alcohol also increases your blood flow and causes your blood vessels to dilate. And this increased flow to the skin’s surface can make you look red and blotchy for days.
In fact, one study found that heavy alcohol use was associated with “upper facial lines, under-eye puffiness and midface volume loss.” Yikes.
There’s further bad news on the skin front, with drink speeding up the signs of ageing. Alcohol breaks down the collagen in skin, which keeps our skin firm and structured. Whilst the depletion of vitamins that slows down cell renewal, giving our skin a grey appearance.
Fewer wrinkles, firmer skin and a healthier complexion are therefore just some of the benefits of not drinking alcohol.
9. It significantly lowers your sugar intake
A vodka and cranberry costs us a massive seven and a half teaspoons. Whilst a rum and coke adds up to seven teaspoons. Even a slimline G&T has plenty of hidden sugar, racking up a costly 4 teaspoons (that’s 36% of your daily intake). And the proverb ‘cider makes you wider’ stands true to its word, with a pint of the stuff containing five teaspoons.
Suffice to say that alcohol is known for carrying too much sugar and so not drinking alcohol promises to prevent energy dips, rotting teeth and weight gain. Plus, one study showed it greatly diminishes the risk of you developing alcohol-related diabetes too.
10. Ditching alcohol can lead to a better sex life
Research suggests that alcohol can be a bit of a double-edged sword in the bedroom… On the one hand, it can enhance our libido, but at the same time it reduces our ability to perform.
Alcohol works by inhibiting parts of our central nervous system (CNS). So whilst it may give us that extra confidence boost after a glass or two, it also dulls the sensitivity of our nerve endings, which are important for sexual arousal and orgasm in both sexes.
“Excessive drinking frequently can affect the sex lives of both males and females,” Dr Dan tells us. “If you’re a man and you consume lots of alcohol on a regular basis, it can lead to difficulties in maintaining an erection and females may experience reduced sexual experiences such as decreased lubrication.”
The benefits of not drinking alcohol can therefore boost both activity in the bedroom and your relationship - a win-win all round.
11. Giving up alcohol lowers blood pressure and reduces your risk of heart disease
Not drinking alcohol is the key to a healthy heart. Especially when you note the long list of heart related problems long-term drinking can cause.
Alcohol raises our blood pressure both temporarily and permanently. And excessive alcohol consumption over the years can lead to high blood pressure - one of the main causes of heart disease.
One study confirmed that drink increases the angiotensin II levels in the blood and vessels. This narrows the blood vessel, restricting blood flow and causing a spike in blood pressure.
“This can damage your arteries and puts increased strain on your heart, which increases your risk of stroke and heart disease,” says Dr Dan. Indeed, another study found that binge-drinkers were more susceptible to a stroke than those who drank moderately or not at all.
Then there’s the high calorie count in alcohol that can increase the amount of cholesterol in our arteries, heightening the risk of a heart-attack because of the blockage.
The good news is that researchers in one study found that hypertension (high blood pressure) was “rapidly reversible in the majority of heavy drinkers after the withdrawal of alcohol consumption.” Whilst a similar study, published in the Lancet also shared that once an individual successfully stops drinking, they can expect their blood pressure to normalise.
12. It will keep your tummy happy
“When you drink alcohol, your stomach lining becomes irritated. Forcing it to deal with a large amount in a short space of time can bother your stomach so badly that you get acid reflux, or even throw up.”
Indeed, one 2009 study found that drinking alcohol has links to the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. And this infection is a type of bacteria known for causing gastritis and its subsequent side effects.
“Alcohol also makes your gut work faster than normal, particularly if you didn’t eat before you started drinking,” adds Dan. “Normally, your gut absorbs water into your body as waste passes through it. When alcohol gets involves, there’s no time for that. A short bout of diarrhoea is the result.”
Those who suffer from IBS may especially benefit from not drinking alcohol. As one University of Washington study found that those who binge-drank often experienced worsened symptoms the day after indulging.
13. It will boost your immune system
Most of us are ware that a healthy immune system is vital at helping us fight off illness. And research has shown that alcohol can actually diminish our body’s natural defence when consumed in large quantities.
A 2015 study found that binge drinking can reduce infection-fighting white blood cells (known as monocytes) in the hours after drinking - essentially weakening your immune system.
Dr Dan agrees that heavy drinkers run the risk of slowing down their immune systems over time and that this “can lead to them being sick more often due to illness.”
With this in mind, a month or more off alcohol can make sure our immune system is on top form.
14. It can reduce your risk of breast cancer
It’s just one of 7 cancers that alcohol is linked to, including bowel cancer, liver cancer, mouth cancer and three different types of throat cancer. And Dr Dan warns that our risk is increased when we regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
This is because alcohol can break down into a molecule called acetaldehyde, which causes the mutations in our cells that can form cancerous tumours. With regards to breast cancer, it is suggested that alcohol increases women’s oestrogen production, which may cause cancerous cells to multiply quicker.
Dr Dan also points out that the risk is naturally greater if drinking is “combined with other factors, such as smoking, a poor diet or a family history of cancer.”
15. Your mood will be consistently better
That sad, tired and overly emotional state you find yourself in after a few too many? Turns out that mood isn't uncommon, as alcohol consumption has a significant impact on our mental health. And it isn’t a good one.
As Dr Shah notes: “While alcohol may temporarily boost your mood, ultimately it’s a depressant which, over time, can make you more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.”
Researchers in one 2012 study simply deemed that “Alcohol dependence is associated with major depression.” With them finding that 63.8% of alcohol-dependent persons trialled were highly depressed. Then there’s a 2005 study that found heavy drinking can affect the effectiveness of depression treatment.
Drinking ultimately interferes with the neurotransmitters that are responsible for our mental health. And has even been found to lower the levels of serotonin in our brain that help regulate our mood. So, if you're wondering how to boost serotonin naturally and combat low mood, giving up alcohol is one solution.
“Stopping drinking can help stabilise your mood, although it might take a few months to feel the full benefit,” confirms Dr Shah.
16. It will improve your memory
The benefits of not drinking alcohol on our memory go much deeper than having no recollection of the night before.
Studies show that alcohol inhibits the functioning of the hippocampus – that’s the part of the brain responsible for creating and saving memories.
So even when you haven’t touched the drink, recalling trivial things such as what you had for dinner the day before may become difficult.
“Alcohol slows down brain function and the ability to remember things easily,” says Dr Dan. “So reducing consumption will definitely have a positive impact on your brain health.”
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Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.
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