Dry January – Love Your Liver

January is upon us again, the festive eating is over and for many, a period of abstinence from alcohol after the holiday excess to give their liver a break is sorely welcomed.

This article first appeared at Huffington Post UK. To read the article there click here  

The festive period brings a level of alcohol consumption unlike any other time; people who would never have considered themselves frequent alcohol consumers are suddenly cracking open a bottle of sparkling wine with breakfast as easily as putting on the kettle on for a cup of tea.

Some of you reading this may be considering a ‘Dry January’ start to the year, but very often the question arises – are there actually any benefits of giving your liver an ‘alcohol-free vacation’?

Your Liver’s Health is Vital


Our liver plays a role in hundreds of processes vital for life, with functions as diverse as digesting food, detoxification and hormone balance. Due to it’s remarkable regenerative capabilities, some suggest the liver is perfectly capable of managing regular amounts of alcohol. Yet this ability can only stretch so far and when liver health hits rock bottom, it is in fact one of the few organs that cannot be artificially support whilst waiting for a transplant.

As a consequence, the health statistics are more than sobering. According to the British Liver Trust, liver disease is the only major cause of death still increasing year on year killing more people per year than diabetes and road deaths combined.

The Benefits to Binning the Booze for a While


So without trying to sound too authoritarian there are benefits from binning the booze for a month.

In the short term, cutting alcohol out has benefits to sleep patterns, daily stress, gastrointestinal health, reducing the waistline. However, financially it could save at least £520 a year just in what we purchase and consume at home.

Yet much like all lifestyle changes, Dry January doesn’t and shouldn’t be the stopping point of cutting back on alcohol. Keeping alcohol intake to the UK Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for both men and women of 14 units per week may reduce the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, stomach ulcers, support brain health and help curb the £3.5 billion cost to the NHS per year in alcohol-related injury.


How Nutrition and Supplementation can Help


So other than ditching the booze, what else can we do to protect our liver?

Do the multitudes of ‘detox supplements’ or any diet changes do anything?

Principally, there is evidence that certain food-derived compounds and botanical agents do help to protect liver cells. They seem to do this in a variety of ways:

1. Directly protecting liver cells, an example being the Ayervedic medicine herb milk thistle

2. Managing liver-centric metabolic pathways in the case of diindolylmethane (found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage)

3. Up-regulating glutathione, a unique protective antioxidant that highly concentrates in liver cells. Cysteine, an amino acids crucial in creating glutathione is found in whey protein, one of the proteins found naturally in cows’ milk.

However, the vast majority of heavily marketed detoxing supplements, juices and teas may not offer the benefits they promise. In some cases, megadoses of supplements may have the opposite effect, damaging the liver further.

So yes, your liver is all your need for detoxification; but a healthy liver does it better. Help it by going dry for January, eating well and supplementing smartly.


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Can drinking your daily coffee lead to a longer life?

Coffee is one of the world’s most commonly consumed beverages. The coffee culture is an undeniable feature of modern living, but over the years science has presented mixed messages regarding its benefits.

This article first appeared at Huffington Post UK. To read the article there click here  

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal suggests that three to four cups of coffee a day is linked to longer life expectancy (except during pregnancy and for women at risk of fracture).

The study examined existing evidence for associations between coffee consumption and multiple health outcomes. It gave an umbrella review of evidence across meta-analyses of more than 200 observational and intervention studies. Overall the authors claim drinking coffee is likely to benefit wellbeing for a range of health outcomes.


Positive vs negative


Coffee drinking was linked with a lower risk of several cancers including prostate, endometrium, skin and liver as well as type 2 diabetes, gallstones and gout. The greatest relationship appeared to be seen in chronic liver conditions such as cirrhosis and there are promising associations between coffee consumption and a lowered risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and depression.

There is a long list of pros for drinking coffee; it is a rich source of antioxidants, has been found to reduce gut permeability, improve mood, enhance memory and boost sports performance. However there can also be some cons; due to caffeine’s mode of action, it can create dependency, raise blood pressure and induce anxiety in susceptible individuals. Therefore it’s reassuring to read research of this kind that invites us to adopt a ‘common-sense’ approach to our coffee consumption.

Coffee is not for everyone and, like any dietary choice, it is always a case of ‘horses for courses.’ If you like coffee, of course you can continue to enjoy it as part of a healthy diet. If you really crave coffee, can’t get through the day without it or you experience anxiety, tremors or gastrointestinal distress then perhaps you should lower the strength of your morning coffee or choose decaffeinated varieties. This is something I often recommend to my clients as part of my dietitian services.


Bioactivity of coffee



Many will not be surprised by these findings. Roasted coffee is a complex mix of 1,000 bioactive compounds with potentially therapeutic, anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic, and anti-cancer effects. Caffeine is a powerful antioxidant but has also been shown to have “antifibrotic effects by preventing hepatic stellate cell adhesion and activation.” Other compounds such as Diterpines, cafestol and kahweol “induce enzymes involved in carcinogen detoxification and stimulation of intracellular antioxidant defence.”

Genotypes and microbiomes



To complicate matters even further it has been found that an individual’s genotype and gut microbiome determines the bio-availability of coffee metabolites to which that individual is exposed. Therefore, the benefits of coffee drinking are all down to the individual. This might explain why some people are full of energy after a morning latte while others are able to enjoy a double espresso right before bed.

What does this mean for coffee lovers?



Coffee drinking is controversial among health care professionals with some in favour and others strongly against it but I am all about the science. In many ways we should be cautious about making firm conclusions about cause and effect based on this research because the studies included were mainly observational.

For the majority we can assume drinking coffee is safe within the usual patterns of consumption. There also appears to be sufficient evidence in the British Medical Journal’s study to highlight the benefits of drinking decaffeinated coffee. It is positively associated with type 2 diabetes, endometrial cancer and lung cancer. Moreover there were no convincing harmful associations between decaffeinated coffee and any health outcome.


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