Lesser-known health benefit of Dry January: cancer prevention

By Rachel C. Miller
University of Kentucky

As we begin 2024, resolutions to eat healthier and exercise more are likely on many minds. This year, you may consider adding another: reducing alcohol or taking a break altogether. Many people have also started to participate in “Dry January” – a month-long vow to go alcohol-free.

Beyond the well-known health benefits of improved sleep, clearer skin, increased energy and shedding extra weight, ditching alcohol offers another often-overlooked advantage – reducing your risk of cancer.

Research shows a link between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of several cancers, including head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast and colorectal. Emerging evidence also suggests a connection to melanoma, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.

Alcohol damages the DNA in our bodies’ cells, impairs nutrient absorption, promotes inflammation, and disrupts hormones – all factors that can increase cancer risk.

Whether you’re considering Dry January or a long-term reduction in your alcohol intake, here are some tips for success:

  • Set clear goals. Decide if you want to abstain completely or adopt a low-alcohol approach.
  • Find your “why.” Remind yourself why reducing alcohol is important to you, whether it’s cancer prevention, improved sleep, or simply a desire to feel your best.
  • Find alternatives. Explore non-alcoholic beverages that satisfy your cravings. Sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice, herbal teas, and mocktails are great options.
  • Plan ahead. Stock up on your favorite alternatives and choose situations where alcohol less of a center of activity.
  • Get support. Tell family and friends about your goals – their encouragement can make all the difference. You may also consider joining online communities or connecting with friends who share the same goals.
Dry January serves as an excellent starting point for adopting a healthier relationship with alcohol all year long. Even for those who choose to drink, moderation is key.
Federal dietary guidelines recommend limiting alcohol to two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less for women. A standard size drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Quitting alcohol “cold turkey” can be dangerous for some individuals. If you engage in binge or heavy drinking, it is best to first consult your doctor for guidance and safe reduction strategies.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with alcohol, help is available via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. NIAAA also has resources online to help you find treatment options.

Rachel C. Miller is a registered dietitian at the UK Markey Cancer Center.
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