FebFast 'no quick fix' for drinkers

Last updated 05:00 27/01/2013
Beer alcohol
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
GOING DRY: A British liver charity says short term abstinence from alcohol is futile.

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Battling the booze? You just can't win.

Hundreds of Kiwis are expected to go dry for FebFast, but a British Liver charity says short-term abstinence is futile and gives a false sense of security. And New Zealand experts agree that a month-long detox is no quick fix for the liver.

The British Liver Foundation recommended cutting alcohol a few days a week for the rest of the year instead.

And so yet another alcohol message is added to conflicting health advice as to what's the best way to consume alcohol, which ranges from drinking red wine daily for your heart to abstaining altogether.

FebFast co-ordinator Jackson Wood said the Liver Foundation is correct that reverting back to binge drinking after a dry month would not offer any health benefits.

"There are people who see it as an atonement for the sins of the holiday period," he said. "It's not going to make you live longer, but that's not the point of FebFast. It's to make you push pause on alcohol and to make you think about it."

About 100 people had officially signed up to FebFast, including a number of celebrities such as Olympic silver medal-winning BMX rider Sarah Walker.

Wood expected last-minute entries to push the number to 600. "It would be nice if the Liver Foundation saw the broader picture of what we're trying to do. It doesn't damage [our campaign]. We've got the same message, but the approach is different."

National Addiction Centre director professor Doug Sellman said conflicting messages about safe drinking habits are just what the alcohol industry wants. This is because more than half of their profit comes from heavy drinking, he said.

Drinking fewer than 14 standard drinks per week and fewer than four standard drinks on any one occasion is the best current advice, but this could change as new research emerges, he said.

"Although providing short-term pleasure for the soul, alcohol is toxic to the human body."

"Early stage liver disease can revert with abstinence but longer periods of abstinence such as three to six months would be advised."

Sellman supported FebFast because it can break unhealthy alcohol habits.

A survey of FebFasters found just over half of respondents cut back on how often they drank.

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, told British journalists that people falsely believed a liver detox would cleanse their liver of excess. "A one-hit, one-month attempt to achieve long-term liver health is not the way to approach it."

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Drinkers are better off taking a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for one month only, he said. This gives the liver time each week to recover.

Southampton General Hospital consultant hepatologist Dr Mark Wright agreed and said detoxing created its own problems. "Detoxing for just a month . . . 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."

- Sunday Star Times


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