By all means go dry for January, but it’s worth knowing that ‘detoxing’ does nothing for your health


Peter Oborne has written an entertaining piece about why he’s giving up alcohol for January: in essence, because he’s worried that he is looking forward to that first drink of the day a bit much, and feeling the effects more than he used to. With the constant nagging background hangover and diffuse feelings of ill health that the end of the year brings, I suspect a lot of us will sympathise.

He’s doing it as part of Alcohol Concern’s “Dry January” campaign; the drink charity is trying to get people to do a sponsored month off the booze, to raise money for (I assume) getting even more people off the booze.

You’d be forgiven for being a bit tired of these sponsored months – we’ve barely seen the back of the damn moustaches – but if people feel it’s a good cause, by all means do it. One thing that’s probably worth being aware of, though, is that if you do it too, while you’ll no doubt raise some cash, and perhaps save a few quid and lose a few pounds, there’s very little reason to believe it will make you healthier in the long term.

Every January, hundreds of thousands of people take the month off the booze as a “detox”. But your liver will not thank you for it, and in fact the whole concept of “detoxing” is little more than New Age nonsense, a modern penance for the sins of the year, which will do nothing for your long-term health. (Particularly idiotic are the “detox kits” that you can buy from various outlets, which are, as far as I can work out, purest quackery, especially anything which uses the word “quantum”.)

When the annual January Detox Bandwagon rolled around last year, the British Liver Trust issued a statement pointing out that it was nonsense. They got a consultant hepatologist, Dr Mark Wright, to say: “Detoxing for just a month in January is medically futile. It can lead to a false sense of security and feeds the idea that you can abuse your liver as much as you like and then sort everything else with a quick fix.

“It makes about as much sense as maxing out your credit cards and overdraft all year, then thinking you can fix it by just eating toast in January. The figures just don’t stack up.”

Essentially, the liver is quite good at repairing itself, but it needs to do it fairly regularly. A few days off the sauce each week, as opposed to a month off every year, is what actual doctors recommend.

Feel free, then, to have a booze-free January. You may even find it makes you feel better and saves you some money. But be aware that it does nothing for your long-term health, and to be honest, if you need to take a month off the booze to prove you can do it (and especially if you require a financial incentive, albeit a charity-directed one, to do so), then you might want to think about your relationship with the stuff.

Anyway. Mine’s a Talisker, please. Happy new year, everybody!

Read all Tom Chivers’ Telegraph Blog posts here

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