A Happy Liver Means a Happy Body
A few days ago, New Scientist Health released a rather informative and motivational article on the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol for a month based on a recent study by a group at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London Medical School (UCLMS). The physical health benefits were clear, but the mental health aspects were not emphasized enough.
Approximately 17 million adults ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder in 2012, including 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women. Nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes annually, which is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In 2009, alcohol-related liver disease was the primary cause of almost 1 in 3 liver transplants in the United States, and alcohol has been identified as a risk factor for cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast.
What the study showed is that abstaining from one month of routine alcoholic drinking produces noticeable and significant health benefits. Liver fat content fell by up to 20 percent, which is impressive especially given the fact that too much liver fat can lead to liver damage, which can in turn lead to liver cirrhosis.
One month of abstinence allowed blood glucose levels to drop by 16 percent on average, which surprised the researchers greatly. This finding is not so surprising to me since the removal of an insult to the liver – namely alcohol – should predict the improvement in over 500 functions the liver is responsible for. The liver plays a key role in blood glucose balance.
Even total cholesterol decreased after a month of no alcohol, and sleep behavior improved as well.
But what about the mood component of alcohol abstinence? Depression? Anxiety? Is there any benefit?
The People Who Win
Based on my experiences with patients who stop drinking alcohol, I can say that abstinence from alcohol allows the mind to take more control over emotional regulation. I have seen it time and time again. Patients come to my office convinced they have major depression, and as soon as they quit alcohol for even 2 to 3 weeks, their depression goes away.
A patient can kick their depression in under a week in some cases. I’ve seen the emotional benefits of abstinence in as short as three or four days. However, in the first few days of abstinence a person will most likely feel greater dysphoria and anxiety. It’s as if the body is protesting the absence of alcohol int he brain, and this feeling of withdrawal dysphoria has the potential to last much longer.
On the same token, I have had patients who report being caught in inebriated-anxiety-inebriated cycles. When inebriated, their anxiety goes away. When they stop drinking, the anxiety comes right back. These patients require a physician to help wean them off of alcohol in a safe manner, and once they are able to kick the habit their daily anxiety often goes away.
Life and Death
One things needs to be made very clear which the article does not seem to address. Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening.
Quitting alcohol without the management of a physician can kill you. Withdrawal from alcohol has the potential to end a person’s life if the withdrawal is bad enough. This means that a person should always seek the advice of a physician before quitting alcohol cold turkey.
I’m here to tell you that abstaining from alcohol can be done, and it is most certainly worth the mental AND physical health benefits.
by Dr. Charles Chaney