Results of a second study at the Royal Free Hospital in London showed drinkers should take a month off alcohol to prevent serious illness.
They cited dramatic British research showing how abstention can heal the liver and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Patients who gave up for four weeks were also at lower risk of developing cancer and type 2 diabetes.
‘The results were staggering,’ said Professor Kevin Moore, who was involved in both experiments. ‘If you had a drug that did this it would be a multi-billion pound market. There was a 40 per cent reduction in liver fat, they lost about three kilograms in weight and their cholesterol levels improved.
In the second, larger study the researchers looked at 102 relatively healthy men and women in their forties taking part in a ‘dry January’ campaign.
The women had been drinking an average of 29 units of alcohol a week, almost double the Government guidelines. The men were typically on 31 units, ten too many.
All had blood tests and liver scans and answered detailed questionnaires. Four weeks later the damage caused to their livers by years of heavy drinking had started to repair itself. Their ‘liver stiffness’ – an indication of disease – had been reduced by 12.5 per cent. Their insulin resistance, a measurement of diabetes risk, had come down by 28 per cent.
They had also lost weight, their blood pressure had dropped, and many said their concentration and sleeping levels had improved. The researchers are due to publish further details, which are expected to show their risk of developing certain cancers was also reduced.
Gautam Mehta, a liver specialist who oversaw the study, said: ‘I am excited. There are some findings that will be pretty novel. It’s an important study which shows the benefit from a month’s abstinence. What we can’t say is how long those benefits are, how durable those benefits are.’
Andrew Langford, the British Liver Trust’s Chief Executive said: ‘It provides good evidence that simple behavioural change can make a real difference to the health of your liver.’
The initial results are already being examined by Department of Health officials, who are preparing new guidelines on safe drinking.