If you’re trying a Dry January, it’s probably starting to get hard. It can help to think about some of the reasons why it’s good to give your liver a break every once in a while.
Although we tend to take our liver for granted, it’s a hard-working organ that does a lot of important things for our bodies. Giving up alcohol—even for a relatively short period of time—offers a number of short-term health benefits, while also helping to instill some healthier, long-term habits.
Some of the liver’s many functions include producing, storing, and supplying energy in the form of glucose, regulating hormone and cholesterol levels, producing bile to help with digestion, and metabolizing alcohol and medications. In total, the liver performs over 500 functions that are essential for our bodies to work properly. The liver is the workhorse of the body, which does an incredible amount of work every day to keep us running.
Our liver is also an organ that rarely complains and is incredibly resilient, as it can function even if up to two-thirds of it is damaged. It can also regenerate itself, within limits. That’s a lot of work for an organ that only weighs about two pounds.
As resilient as our liver is, it can’t take endless abuse, with two of the more common liver diseases being cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. Although we tend to focus on cirrhosis from heavy drinking, fatty liver disease is also fairly common, with some of the risk factors including insulin resistance, high levels of blood sugars or fats, especially triglycerides, and obesity. If left unmitigated, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can also progress to cirrhosis.
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women, and given the stresses of the past few years, many of us have been drinking more than our usual. In a recent poll, almost one in five Americans reported heavy drinking within the last month of being surveyed. We’ve also been doing a lot more stress eating, which includes reaching for highly processed foods that are also tough on our liver. It’s a lot for our livers to handle.
All of that is to say: Our livers deserves a bit of a break. It’s doing a lot of hard work and is under more stress than usual. Cutting back, whether it’s reducing alcohol consumption or working on developing healthier eating habits, is a way to do just that.
The advantage of doing a Dry January is that it has a number of short- and long-term benefits. In a 2018 study published in the journal British Medical Journal, 94 moderate-to-heavy drinkers who gave up alcohol for a month saw a number of improvements in certain health markers, including their blood pressure, insulin resistance, and liver functioning. Giving up alcohol for a month can also help you sleep better and prevent the over-eating that usually happens when you’ve had a few drinks.
In addition to these short-term benefits, giving up alcohol for a month can lead to drinking less even after the month is over. If you’ve been drinking a little more than you’d like, then this can be a good way to establish a healthier habit. Your liver will thank you for it.