When we talk about giving up alcohol, it’s often in the context of alcohol abuse. While quitting drinking altogether is beneficial, even life-saving, for alcoholics, they aren’t the only ones who can improve their health by cutting booze from their diet. While you’re probably aware of some of the benefits—weight-loss, no hangovers—there is much more that you may not be aware of. Here we’ll explore the top five hidden benefits of laying off the sauce.
#1: Clearer Skin
It comes as a surprise to many people, but it shouldn’t. According to Dr. David Colbert, a New York dermatologist, taking a look at how the skin is affected by advanced liver disease is instructive. Speaking about patients dying from liver failure, he told the Huffington Post, “They’re sallow, they’re pasty, they’re cold, [and] their pores are huge.”
Even moderate alcohol intake can cause the same skin conditions Colbert noted to a lesser, but still noticeable, degree. For people who suffer from rosacea or eczema, the effects can be dramatic. Drinking red wine, for example, increases the incidence of rosacea flare-ups by 76%. The sugar in alcohol contributes to acne by causing insulin spikes, while skin dehydrated by alcohol looks older and less elastic.
Happily, skin recovers very quickly from the damage caused by drinking. In just two weeks, skin will appear plumper and more hydrated, making you look younger and well-rested. Muscle tone improves quickly as well, lifting the face and reducing the appearance of aging.
#2: More Restful Sleep
After an evening of drinking, you may notice that you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night. According to PsychCentral, alcohol interferes with homeostasis, the body’s way of regulating sleep. The body produces glutamine, a stimulant, to combat the depressive effects of alcohol. Unfortunately, the effect of this hormone is easily overwhelmed and isn’t felt until the alcohol begins to metabolize. Then, glutamine is left in the body causing sleeplessness. This is especially problematic because many people see alcohol as a sleep aid. While it may help you fall asleep initially, your body’s process of metabolizing releases chemicals that encourage wakefulness, alertness, and the need to urinate. Periods of extended drinking increase this effect and can also lead to decreased R.E.M. activity. Therefore, the sleep one does get after drinking is less restful because homeostasis is negatively affected.
Sleep improvement is rapid after giving up alcohol. While people with sleep disorders may need to seek other treatment in order to fall asleep, the quality of sleep is increased for everyone.
#3: Improved Mood
Alcohol has a reputation in our culture as a mood lifter, but research shows the opposite is true. Researchers have found increased incidences of depression, aggression, and anger in those who drank heavily, compared to their peers who drank less. These effects last past the period of inebriation, making them especially troublesome. Hangovers can trigger anxiety and depression as well. Because alcohol is seen as a happy, good-time substance, many people drink to relieve these feelings, keeping them locked in a cycle of drinking and deteriorating mood.
Even more troubling for those who already struggle with mood disorders is that alcohol can cause certain medications to be less effective, particularly those used to treat depression and anxiety. Not only that but since it’s a popular tool for self-medication, alcohol frequently masks underlying emotional and social issues, making them harder to diagnose and treat. While drinking may make you feel great for a few hours, all of the experts agree it’s far healthier and easier to maintain a good mood without drinking.
#4: Decreased Risk of Diabetes and Heart Disease
The insulin spikes caused by alcohol’s high sugar content aren’t just bad for your skin; increased insulin production is a forbearer of Type II diabetes. Insulin spikes whenever the body needs to remove glucose, a type of sugar, from the blood, but when spikes happen too frequently the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. Sensitivity decreases until natural insulin is no longer enough to process the sugars in a normal diet. Insulin injections, dietary restrictions, and careful monitoring keep diabetes under control, but cutting out alcohol before the resistance to insulin begins can head the disease off at the pass. According to NewScientist.com, after as little as one month off the sauce, blood glucose levels drop, showing that insulin is again doing its job.
The heart health effects take about the same amount of time to appear, but when they do they are significant. Cholesterol levels drop nearly 5% in just a month, decreasing the risk of blockages in the arteries which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Compared with the side effects of medications that do the same thing, quitting drinking is a much less unpleasant and invasive preventative to heart disease.
#5: Healthier Digestion
Stomach sensitivity and nausea are frequent symptoms of hangovers, but many drinkers don’t understand why or how serious this can become. According to a research paper, Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders, alcohol is absorbed directly through the cells of the stomach and small intestine, irritating them in the process. Over time, irritation can turn into damage, especially in the muscles that keep the stomach contents from moving into the esophagus. This leads to heartburn and nausea that can become chronic. Damage to the intestine can lead to chronic diarrhea and toxins being more easily and quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Upon stopping the consumption of alcohol, the mucosa of the small intestine that controls the absorption of nutrients recovers especially quickly. Enzyme production evens out and muscle tone improves, normalizing the digestive process and relieving the heartburn and other symptoms.
Drinking is bound up in our culture in complex ways that are hard to untangle. From celebration to consolation, it can seem as though alcohol plays a role in every aspect of life. But for every occasion there is to drink, there’s a reason not to. If giving up alcohol is something you want to do successfully, remind yourself that each day you go without a drink is one that protects your health, both subtly and dramatically.