Sober October: is it really worth it?
Octsober or Sober October is a fundraising initiative aimed at raising money for Life Education. Participants go without alcohol for the entire month, in most cases to detox their body. As well as it being a great fundraising opportunity, it is also a fantastic month for your health. You may be thinking ‘is it really worth it?’ or ‘will it really make a difference?’. I’m here to answer those questions and give you an insight into what alcohol really does to your body.
Many people don’t realise how many calories are in alcohol. Alcohol, like chips and doughnuts, is a major source of empty calories. Average alcohol intake for adults is almost 10% of the total daily energy intake in most developed countries. Generally people don’t reduce their food energy intake when they consume alcoholic beverages. This means a non-drinker and an alcohol drinker would consume the same amount of food energy per day, however the alcohol drinkers have the added energy intake of the alcohol. Therefore, unless alcohol drinkers increase their exercise habits they will be consuming more energy then they are outputting, which causes weight gain.
Alcohol consumption is also a contributor to over 60 different diseases. It increases your risk of developing a range of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and cognitive disorders. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means there has been sufficient evidence of its tendency to produce cancer. The long-term use of alcohol can cause Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy, which features include cardiac chamber dilatation (decreased ability of the heart to pump blood), tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate) and peripheral oedema (accumulation of fluid causing swelling in the legs/ankles). Alcohol drinking has been associated with an increase in blood pressure and can affect the brain too. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behaviour, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
Drinking too much can even weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more likely to develop diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who stick to the alcohol guidelines. Drinking too much on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
So now you know what alcohol does to your body we can look into how reducing alcohol intake benefits your body.
A recent study by the University College London found that people who abstained from alcohol for a month enjoyed big health improvements, including better liver function, lower cholesterol, better sleep and improved concentration. The control group who had continued to drink showed no changes to any of the measures, however the experimental group who stopped drinking showed a marked improvement in measures of physical health. Their liver fat fell by an average of 15 per cent, blood glucose fell by an average of 23 per cent and total blood cholesterol levels were reduced by an average of 6 per cent.
Drinking less also means you get more high quality sleep as alcohol interferes with your natural sleep process. Even a couple of drinks can interfere with the normal sleep process. When you drink alcohol close to bedtime, you can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In the course of a night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling refreshed. However, if you’ve been drinking you’ll typically have only one to two, meaning you can wake feeling exhausted.
But isn’t some alcohol consumption good for you? The short answer is YES! Alcohol can have a very powerful effect and increase your HDL, or “good” cholesterol, by 20% if used moderately and in the context of a healthy diet along with regular physical activity. Studies have shown that ethanol, or the alcohol component of beer, wine, or spirits, is a substrate that can help lower cholesterol levels, by increasing the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. The key word in this situation is “moderately”. No more than 1 standard drink per day for women and no more than 2 standard drinks per day for men.
In conclusion, Octsober is a great way detox your body from alcohol and get you feeling great again. It can give your body a break to recover and repair itself without having to fight the effects of alcohol. Drinking in moderation is fine for your body, and can even help lower your cholesterol, but sticking to the guidelines is the key! Cheers Zoe!