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NPR Health

The Benefits Of A Dry January

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

January - the month of lofty self-improvement goals. You might consider doing dry January, where you stop drinking alcohol for the month. I'll confess; I'm doing it. And so I was wondering, could just one month really improve your health? Professor Rajiv Jalan has actually gathered data about the benefits of dry January, besides bragging rights. And he joins us now to explain.

RAJIV JALAN: Yes. Hi. Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hello. All right, give me the good news. Is dry January worth it?

JALAN: Absolutely. I think, you know, there is now controlled data showing that it's beneficial.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why?

JALAN: You know, alcohol is toxic. If it was invented in 2018, it would not pass the FDA to be on the market. So it's toxic. But, of course, it is an essential evil.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I like that, an essential evil. That's exactly right.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But you studied this. So I'd like to know a little bit about the data. What did you find when you looked at people who actually did a dry January?

JALAN: So the study that we did was - take some hospital volunteers. There were a group of 80 people that gave up drinking for January. And there were 40 that continued to drink. And what we observed was improvement in multiple domains. We did some tests of liver function, which improved. The skin condition and the appearance improved. They almost all lost weight.

We observed - this is really remarkable - that - so there are certain cancer-related blood tests. And these individuals also came down. They reported better sleep. Their blood glucose was lower, better concentration and better sexual function. But what was incredible - and this is really important; we don't quite understand why. The individuals that stopped drinking for a month - they reported significantly lower drinking during the following six months.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So wait. Abstaining for a month doesn't make you desperate to have a drink and then rush off to the nearest pub when it's all over?

JALAN: It actually does exactly the opposite. I think that one feels so much better that they, perhaps, reduce the amount of drinking. We don't understand what this is about as to whether there is deconditioning or reduced requirement. Or it may just be self-preservation and feeling better at the end of that month.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It sounds miraculous.

JALAN: It is. You know, it is too good to be true. But, of course, you know, you have to recognize that the sample size that we studied is relatively small. There were only 80 individuals. The second weakness is that, you know, these were self-selected individuals. There is a clear potential for bias. But the improvements were so remarkable, that I think it obviates any of these problems.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess it's a great thing to do. And you would recommend it for people to do it?

JALAN: Yes, I'm doing it, too. I'm doing it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you do that? Every January, you do a dry January?

JALAN: Well, I don't last the month. So I have one or two slip ups. But I recommend it, and I think it is, perhaps, a good thing to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there you go. That is Rajiv Jalan. He is a professor of hepatology and head of the liver failure group at the UCL Medical School in London. And he joined us from London. Thank you so much.

JALAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.