Here’s to (temporary) abstinence


Those of you who are opting for a dry January (a group that excludes me, I must admit) may be cheered to learn that there is now some medical support for doing so…

In October last year, 14 healthy New Scientist journalists – “normal” drinkers – took part in a little experiment. They were all weighed, answered questionnaires about their health and drinking habits, had ultrasound scans to measure the amount of fat on their livers and provided blood samples for analysis. Ten members of the group then gave up alcohol completely for five weeks, while the four others maintained their normal consumption patterns.


The results (which can be read here) were quite dramatic. The abstainers saw a consistent fall (of 15%) in their liver fat, a near-5% drop in their cholesterol and a 23% drop in their blood glucose levels. They also averaged weight losses over the month of 1.5kg. The lower blood glucose figures (which indicate a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes) were apparently the most striking of the experiment. Kevin Moore, consultant in liver health services at University College London Medical School (UCLMS) says that he was “staggered” by them and that he didn’t think anyone had observed these kinds of results before.

The numbers of participants in this study was limited and there is no evidence of how long the positive effects lasted once they gave up their temporary abstinence, but it’s food for thought. And, as Nick Theron of the same university said, “if you can persuade a bunch of journalists to have a month off the booze there is really no excuse for anyone not to be able to do the same thing, is there?”

I think he’s talking about me…

16 comments

  1. Lahcene Boutouba · ·

    I think this study is based on Alcohol beverages and not wine in particular .. so am going to keep believing in the French Paradox and Keep on Wine sante


  2. Mathieu Schillinger · ·

    I am not sure this will encourage people to drink more sensibly. Keep off booze for 5 weeks and binge for the next 47 is what some people will read


  3. Lahcene, I fear that you might find that some of those 10 were female and wine drinkers. But I have no proof of thet.

  4. Mathieu, you make a good point, but the results ARE striking.


  5. Lahcene Boutouba · ·

    Joseph ,yes may be but still France has proved to have the highest life expectancy in the world and they drink 55 litres of wine per year twice the UK , and have less fatness ..depends how we look at it …

  6. Not exactly, I'm afraid Lahcene. According to World Health Organisation, French men rank 24th for life expectancy. Women rank 2nd, but recent official French estimates show that nearly 50% of French women no longer drink wine. https://en.wikipedia.org/…/List_of_countries_by_life…

    List of countries by life expectancy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    en.wikipedia.org
    Life expectancy equals the average number of years a person born in a given country would live if mortality rates at each age were to remain constant in the future. The life expectancy is shown separately for males and females, as well as a combined figure.

    http://www.franceagrimer.fr/content/download/19371/156117/file/TDB-VIN-diaporama-conf%C3%A9rence-vinitech-consommation-vin-A12.pdf

  7. Mathieu Schillinger · ·

    I am not saying that the results dont add up (mind you I'd be interested to know who exactly took part in the experiment, and what their consumption was before the experiment). The danger of studies like those (wthout further analysis) is that hygienists will say alcohol is poison, and pissheads will think that cutting on drinking for 5 weeks will redempt their excessive drinking habits. I regret that not just in the UK but in France also, there is very little education given to drinking with sense. And “scientific” studies dont usually help a lot

  8. Chris Kassel · ·

    Utter unbridled boredom: + 68%.

  9. Fair points Mathieu. In fact, of course, alcohol IS poison and consumption of over a glass a day almost certainly does more harm than good, but even if it were longer, life would be more miserable if that were really our limit.


  10. Lahcene Boutouba · ·

    Joseph well looks that you have a case but on the report something weird is that France and Italy have been always matching on level of health etc.. Italy drinks as much as France and are 4th here strange may be is the Olive Oil
    about an hour ago · Like

    Thx for the up date links

  11. Howard Winn · ·

    I with you Robert, moderation in all things so no time or need for a 'Dry January'

  12. Not sure how Japan figures on the olive oil scale.

  13. So many holes in that study that I would consider it useless, only 4 people in the control group means that comparing against it is fruitless. Self assessment for anything is very hit and miss, and when considering alcohol consumption I would say totally pointless, one man's normal is another man's 10 pints a weekend. Nice looking graphs to get a front page hit on New Scientist but very shaky from a scientific point of view. For full disclosure I run randomised trials for a living and would also consider myself a 'normal' drinker!!

  14. Yes, Andrew, I concede that it's not a strong New Scientist piece. Only 4 in the control is very week, but consistency among the 10 was interesting. My hope is that by giving it a bit of publicity, we can encourage some more serious research. As an industry, we are not especially good at acknowledging the impacts of the stuff with which we are involved. Anything that doesn't say “wine [in any quantity] is good for you” tends to be batted aside. I'd like to see a lot more serious work on the effects of various quantities of intake, varying strengths of alcohol and frequency. Is it healthier to have a glass a day than to have two or three glasses on some days and none on the next.
    I won't personally take too much notice of the results, but it would be good to know that they exist.

  15. It is interesting I guess, but mainly because it encourages discussion. In fact it is not very believable for many reasons, chiefly that since the results were so “striking”, and if one assumes that similar tests HAVE been run before, these are not the usual results. For every outlying 'positive' result there will be a study pointing the other direction.

    There are lots of other questions, like whether if they were not drinking whether they took up other activities that might have had additional impact (more exercise, less eating, etc.).

    There is also the issue that livers do learn to 'cope' (apparently) and so abstinence may be temporarily good, but in fact might mean more damage than expected would incur when they returned to drinking.

    At least it encourages discussion and awareness that alcohol IS a substance that causes harm as well as offering certain benefits, so we ought to encourage awareness along with consumption.

    Personally I have shifted to at least a 5:2 diet … whereby the habits too many of us in the trade develop for drinking wine daily are moderated and I do have 2 nights “off” a week.

    Moderation in all things … including moderation

  16. It may be worth saying that the 5:2 diet is a recent development. The alcohol industry could do with a lot more serious research into the impact of various kinds of consumption. I get very bored with the “wine is healthy [in virtually any amounts] – other alcohol isn't” mantra, and the demonising of any medical experts who talk about rising rates of liver disease.

    A little level-headed thinking would be welcome.

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