Dry January, a phenomenon that started in Scandinavia and has now gained more popularity in other parts of Europe. During “Dry January” people challenge themselves to temporary abstinence from alcohol for one month, in order to detox their bodies after the holiday season. The media states that one-month alcohol abstinence has a beneficial effect on your sleep pattern, alertness, mood, weight, skin, and your liver. Because I am currently participating in Dry January I was wondering if the results of alcohol abstinence for a short period of time are studied, and what these results might be.

Before we can understand what beneficial effects a month without alcohol can have, we need to know what alcohol does to our body. Alcohol has, amongst other things, an influence on our liver and on our mental health. When we consume alcohol, a part of the brain that is related to reward becomes active: the striatum. Also, dopamine is released which has an influence on feelings of reward and the control of impulsive behaviour. While the striatum is activated, the prefrontal cortex is inhibited which regulates impulses and emotion regulation.

When we consume an alcoholic beverage, the alcohol is absorbed in our blood which in turn is filtered by our liver. Alcohol damages the liver by stimulating the liver cells, which causes them to die. This leads to scarring of liver cells (fibrosis) and to shrinkage of the liver itself (cirrose). People with liver cirrose have a higher chance of developing liver cancer. The positive part of this story is the self-recovery function of our liver. Your liver can recover for up to 70% if you put aside alcohol for at least one month.

Researchers from the RadboudUMC1 in Nijmegen (2017) and the University of Sussex2 (2015) studied voluntarily temporary abstinence from alcohol to gain more insight in the effects of alcohol abstinence and alcohol use after Dry January and to gain more insight in the possibility of health-related benefits.

After going for a month without alcohol, 62% of the people reported better sleep and more energy2 and 57% had more concentration. Also, alertness was tested: participants who drank alcohol showed more impulsivity and were, therefore, quicker, but made more mistakes. After Dry January these participants reacted slightly slower but more accurate.

Also, various health-related benefits were reported: less liver cells were stimulated (2) or died (1), 54% had better skin and 70% had generally improved health (2). Also a reduction in belly fat was measured (1), this can be explained by the process in which the body breaks down fat cells, this process is slowed down by alcohol. Besides, the lowering of belly fat is also a result of a reduction of calorie intake (one glass of wine, for instance, has 82 kcal). Another quite important benefit: 88% of the participants saved money (2).

Before these studies, there was some negative criticism against Dry January. Professionals were scared that people would experience a rebound effect after the dry month, resulting in more alcohol consumption. However, the results reveal the opposite: one month of alcohol abstinence led to less alcohol consumption in the following six months (2). Saying “No” to alcohol for a month created an awareness about the effects of alcohol and the participants gained insight into their drinking behaviour (2).

Taken together it seems that quitting alcohol, even for a short period of time, has lots of beneficial effects. No reason to not try a dry month this year!

REFERENCES
1. Munsterman, I. Tjwa, E., Schellekens A. (2017). “Lever rust uit van een maand niet drinken”. https://dekennisvannu.nl/site/special/Een-maand-zonder-alcohol/82

2. De Visser, R.O., Robinson, E., Bond, R. (2016) Voluntary temporary abstinence from alcohol during “Dry January” and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology, Vol 35(3), 281-289

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ADHD and Exercise

ADHD is among the most common psychiatric disorders, with ~3% prevalence in adulthood and ~5% in childhood. ADHD has a high risk for comorbid conditions. Comorbid means that one psychiatric disorder often comes together with another psychiatric disorder. For instance mood, anxiety and substance use disorders have high comorbid rates in adults with ADHD.

Adults with ADHD are also at risk for obesity and major depressive disorders and adolescent ADHD predicts adult obesity: 40% of adults with ADHD are also obese. These are worrying numbers. Many adults who have ADHD suffer from these negative consequences that come with their mental illness.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence of the powerful effects of nutrition and lifestyle on mental health. Exercise is one of them.It helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, a number of types of cancer and arthritis. Besides that, regular exercise can help you sleep better, reduce stress, sharpen your mental functioning, and improve your sex life. Nearly all studies revolve around aerobic exercise which includes walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling.

Recent research shows that exercise might also have a positive effect on ADHD symptoms such as improving attention and cognition1,2 Additional research is needed to explore this effect further, but we can take a look at the mechanisms underlying this effect.

One of the parts in our brain that is affected by exercise is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex plays an important role in controlling impulsive behavior and attention, and is positively influenced by exercise. Furthermore, dopamine and norepinephrine play an important role in attention regulation. Ritalin, among one of the most well-known medication for ADHD, also increases levels of dopamine.

When you exercise regularly, the basis levels of dopamine and norepinephrine rise, and even new dopamine receptors are created. These dopamine levels are also the reason why exercise therapy can be effective for people suffering from depression: low levels of dopamine are a predictor of depressive symptoms.

Taken together: people with ADHD are at risk for obesity and depression. Exercise has a positive influence on obesity, depression and ADHD. Wouldn’t it be great if we could treat people with ADHD with an exercise therapy?

The PROUD-study is currently studying the prevention of depressive symptoms, obesity and the improvement of general health in adolescents and young-adults with ADHD. PROUD establishes feasibility and effect sizes of two kinds of interventions: an aerobic exercise therapy and the effects of a bright light therapy.

Exercise and ADHDParticipants follow a 10 week exercise intervention in which they train three days a week: one day of only aerobic activities (20-40 min) and in two of these days, muscle-strengthening and aerobic activities (35 – 60 min). An app guides them through the exercises, and the intensity and duration of these exercises increase gradually. During a 24 week course changes in mood, condition, ADHD symptoms and body composition are measured.

I am really looking forward to the results of the effectiveness of this intervention in adolescents and adults with ADHD. It is great that this study tries to alter a lifestyle instead of temporarily symptom-reducing options. A healthy life is a happy life!

For more information about the PROUD-study see www.adhd-beweging-lichttherapie.nl (only in Dutch) or contact the researchers via proud@karakter.com. For more information about a healthy lifestyle and the positive effects on mental health, see our other blogs at https://newbrainnutrition.com/

 

References

  1. Kamp CF, Sperlich B, Holmberg HC (2014). Exercise reduces the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and improves social behaviour, motor skills, strength and neuropsychological parameters. Acta Paediatrica, 103, 709-714.

 

  1. Choi JW, Han DH, Kang KD, Jung HY, Renshaw, PF (2015). Aerobic exercise and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: brain research. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 47, 33-39.
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