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Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions: Quitting Bad Habits

New Year’s Resolutions: Quitting Bad Habits

Around 7 million of us will make New Year’s resolutions this month, hoping to improve some aspect of our health. Giving up common vices, such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar can have tremendous health benefits. Unfortunately only 8% of us manage to keep our resolutions. Read on for tips on how to boost your chances of success for a healthy and happy 2017.

Caffeine

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. The reason drinking anything caffeinated feels so good is because caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, our brain’s ‘reward’ hormone.

In moderation, coffee actually has some health benefits, including some protective effects for the liver. However, if you’re relying on caffeine to give you an energy blast or a mood boost, or if you’re having any sleep problems, then it’s time to reduce your caffeine intake.

The problem with quitting caffeine ‘cold turkey’ is because the effects of caffeine withdrawal can be miserable. Headaches, mood changes and tiredness are common. Other symptoms such as constipation can arise in the absence of caffeine’s stimulating effects on the bowel.

Quick Quit Tips

Don’t go cold turkey. Instead try to reduce slowly over the course of a week. For example, replace one of your regular coffees with a decaf, and then switch another high-caffeine drink to a cup of black tea.

Find another way to boost your dopamine levels. Exercise boosts feel-good dopamine and serotonin. Exercise doesn’t need to be gruelling – a simple brisk walk is sufficient. Supplements such as tyrosine, theanine and rhodiola can also support dopamine levels (1,2).

Guard your energy reserves by balancing your blood sugar levels. Follow a low GI diet with snacks such as fruit and nuts rather than your usual coffee fix. Consider taking supplements designed to support blood sugar and energy levels containing chromium, magnesium and B vitamins.

Alcohol

Binge-drinking over the Christmas period is common, and the effects include unwanted weight gain, poor quality sleep and low mood. For women, more than 6 units of alcohol is defined as binge drinking. Pub serving sizes can be large – a 250ml glass of wine contains almost four units, and so it is easy to overindulge (3).

Giving up alcohol is a popular way to ‘detox’ and to lose weight after the Christmas period. The health benefits of giving up alcohol, even just for a month, are considerable. A recent study found that committing to a ‘dry January’ resulted in a 15% decrease in fatty liver, a 5% decrease in cholesterol and a 16% decrease in blood glucose levels. Those who managed a full month without drinking also tended to drink less often and have fewer drinks in one sitting six months later (4).

Quick Quit Tips

Try changing your environment to avoid temptation. Rather than visiting your local pub, have a film night, book some theatre tickets or meet in a cafe.

Try out some non-alcoholic tipples. Refreshing, low sugar options include pink grapefruit juice, sparkling water, slimline tonic, fresh mint and lemon. Herbal teas and fruit teas can also work well – simply brew the tea and then keep it chilled in the fridge.

Enhance the positive impact of abstinence on your liver, with some liver-supportive nutrients. Silymarin (milk thistle), a herb with strong antioxidant properties, is commonly used as a natural liver-supportive supplement. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), another powerful antioxidant, has been found to improve liver function in those with fatty liver disease (5).

Sugar

In the UK we eat the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of sugar each day, contributing to widespread obesity, as well as digestive and blood sugar problems. Like alcohol, certain types of sugar have also been found to put pressure on the liver. High fructose corn syrup, found in all kinds of processed foods, has been found to cause damage to the liver over time.

Giving up sugar can feel like quite a task, especially as sugar is added to many processed foods from breakfast cereals to pasta sauces. Those who have relied on sugary snacks for regular energy boosts throughout the day can experience strong cravings and might struggle without a careful strategy to reduce their intake. It is worth persevering however, as the benefits of giving up added sugars are huge. As well as weight loss and improved energy levels, a reduced sugar intake is linked with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Quick Quit Tips

Those with a sweet tooth can still include sweet foods in their whole food form. Snack on naturally sweet bananas, grapes and pineapple. These whole foods are naturally high in antioxidants, fibre and prebiotics, supporting the liver and digestive system. Simply pair with a protein such as nuts or natural yoghurt to control the effect on your blood sugar level.

Include protein with your breakfast and switch to a low GI diet to help control sugar cravings. Eggs, fish, yoghurt or a protein shake with fruit make excellent breakfast foods, while nuts, seeds and oatcakes are handy for snacks.

Natural sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia can be added to sweeten foods for a lesser impact on blood sugar. Sweetening with a little chopped fruit, and using seasoning such as cinnamon or nutmeg are other good options.

Supplements designed to support healthy blood sugar regulation should contain nutrients such as chromium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Cinnamon is also known to help maintain normal blood glucose levels. Try adding a spoonful to your porridge in the morning. If you don’t like the taste, then cinnamon can be taken in supplement form.

Sticking to your New Year’s resolutions may seem tough at times, but the benefits could be huge. Let us know how you’re getting on with your New Year’s resolutions on Twitter or Facebook.

References
1. Phytother Res. 2007. Jan 21(1):37-43
2. Neuropharmacology 2012 Jun. 62(7):2320-7
3. Unit and Calorie Calculator. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/unit-calculator?gclid=CPTr-IOvo9ECFUqdGwodf-sAIA.
4. de Visser et al (2016) Voluntary abstinence from alcohol during ‘Dry January’ and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology. 35(3) 281-289
5. Khoshbaten et al (2010) N-acetlycystein improves liver function in patients withnon-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepat Mon 10(1):12-16
6. Kavanagh K, Wylie T, Tucker K, et al. Dietary fructose induces endotoxemia and hepatic injury in calorically controlled primates. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013.

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January is Love Your Liver Month

December is a month filled with office parties and festive celebrations. While Christmas is a wonderful time to relax and celebrate with family and friends, all this overindulgence can play havoc with our health. It therefore seems timely that the British Liver Trust has named the month of January national Love Your Liver month.

The liver is extraordinary. It filters around one and a half litres of blood every minute, ridding our body of toxins such as alcohol, caffeine, drugs and food additives. Weight gain over Christmas time results in extra fat stored in the liver, and the extra caffeine, alcohol and the morning-after painkillers, all place additional pressure on this important organ.

In fact, according to the NHS, 1 in 5 people in the UK have a fatty liver, and rates of liver disease in the UK are rising (1).

How does overindulgence damage the liver?

When the liver tries to break down alcohol and other toxins, this can cause oxidative stress which damages cells in the liver. It is also thought that alcohol and other irritants can damage our intestine which means that toxins from the intestine can get into the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring. The liver turns glucose into fat which it sends round the body to store for use when we need it. Alcohol affects the way the liver handles fat meaning that fat starts to build up in the liver.

Dr Mark Wright at the British Liver Trust explains that the liver tends to suffer at Christmas because Chritmas indulgences are not simply restricted to a single day – instead the festive period is drawn out over several weeks, meaning that the liver is subject to excess fat, alcohol and calories over a long period of time. If we bombard our liver with too many toxins we can eventually overstretch our liver’s resources.

How can we protect and repair the liver?

The good news is that these early signs of liver disease are reversible as the liver has the remarkable ability to repair itself. The Love Your Liver campaign suggests just three simple steps to protect your liver’s health:

1. Stay off alcohol for 2-3 days in a row each week;
2. Take more exercise and stay fit;
3. Cut down on sugar and fat.

Nutritionally, there are a number of measures that are also believed to help an over burdened liver to repair itself. Foods that help promote healthy liver function include:

Are you eating enough fruit to help keep your liver healthy?
Are you eating enough fruit to help keep your liver healthy?
  • High sulphur foods, such as garlic, legumes, onions and eggs;
  • Water soluble fibre such as pears, oatbran, apples and legumes;
  • Cabbage family vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage and sprouts;
  • Functional foods such as artichokes, beets, carrots, turmeric and cinnamon.

A good quality antioxidant supplement can also support your liver by providing it with the resources it needs to repair oxidative damage. Certain nutritional supplements can also support the liver’s detoxification processes. For example, sulphation is the chemical process used to detoxify substances such as alcohol and paracetemol.  The supplement methyl sulphonyl methane (MSM) – a form of sulphur – helps to support this sulphation process in the liver. The antioxidant supplement silymarin, or milk thistle, is also frequently used to help support and repair the liver, with much research supporting its benefits in diseases of the liver (2).

Stay Health Aware

As the liver has no nerve endings, it can be hard to notice the first signs of problems. If you feel you have been overindulging with fatty foods and alcohol over a long period of time you can ask your GP for a liver function test.

The Love Your Liver Roadshow is touring throughout the month of January and offers free liver assessments to the public. The roadshow is planned to stop at Portsmouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bradford, Leeds, Middlesborough and Glasgow. For the most up to date information, visit the British Liver Trust’s Love Your Liver website.

Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.

References

1. Liver Disease Summary Statistics. www.liver.nhs.uk.

2. Saller R, Brignoli R, Melzer J Meier R. (2008) An updated systematic review with meta-analysis for the clinical evidence of silymarin. Forsch Komplementmed.

3. Image courtesy of winnond.

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