If abstaining from alcohol for a short-term ‘detox‘ is part of your New Year’s plan, you may be better off focusing your energies elsewhere. Giving up alcohol for a few weeks is pointless, says a British liver charity—especially if your goal is to ‘make up’ for too much holiday drinking.
“People think they’re virtuous with their health by embarking on a liver detox each January with the belief that they are cleansing their liver of excess following the festive break,” said Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust.
But providing the liver isn’t already damaged, it doesn’t need a month to detox—in fact, it can repair itself within as little as 24 hours. Instead of a long, once-yearly detox, Langford recommends taking a few days off alcohol each week throughout the entire year; giving your liver a short time to recover each week is better than a long-stretch every so often.
Um, duh? Of course a January alcohol detox can’t make up for daily drinking the rest of the year. And, obviously, a ‘longer-term attitude’ toward not consuming excessive alcohol is going to be better for liver health than a short period of complete abstinence.
But that doesn’t mean a short-term alcohol detox is pointless. In fact, I think when most people—at least, younger people—decide to lay off the booze for a short time, they’re not even thinking about long-term liver health. They’re thinking things like, “Man, I would probably be more productive if I didn’t spend another weekday morning hungover,’ or ‘Wow, I could save a lot of money if I avoided the bars for a month’ or ‘Huh, my gut is looking a little pouchy … should probably do something about that.’ So, okay—going alcohol-free this January (or any few weeks of the year) won’t do wonders for your liver. That doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile thing to try. If nothing else, your skin will probably look better.
And for the record: It’s not just alcohol that’s bad for liver health. As part of the British Liver Trust’s ‘Love Your Liver’ campaign, the group is warning that exercising and cutting down on junk food and sugary drinks will also help optimize your liver function. Being overweight and a drinker can increase your risk of liver disease threefold.