Sorry, Barflies: Dry January Isn't a Fix For Heavy Drinking

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Briefly cutting back on alcohol can save money, and it might even temporarily improve your sleep or help you lose weight. But as Inside Science reports, Dry January—the increasingly popular practice of giving up booze for the entire first month of the year—might not confer any lasting health benefits if you're planning on hitting the bars again come February.

Researchers say there's just not enough data to gauge whether short-term abstinence pays off in the long run. In fact, studies have indicated that people who are forced to stop drinking for periods of time (such as military recruits) end up overdoing it after they're allowed to imbibe again. And going booze-free affects people differently based on age, gender, genetics, and drinking habits.

That said, volunteer abstinence—with plenty of social support—could prompt positive change. Richard de Visser, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England, published a study in 2016 in the journal Health Psychology based on follow-up questionnaires answered by Dry January participants. The surveys revealed that many people actually ended up drinking less overall, even after their alcohol hiatus was over.

"Even if participants took part but didn't successfully complete the 31 days, it generally led to a significant decrease across all the measures of alcohol intake," de Visser told BBC News. (Critics of the study pointed out that its participants belonged to a self-selecting group that had successfully scaled down their alcohol consumption.)

Meanwhile, a mini-experiment conducted by New Scientist journalists in 2013 challenged the notion that short-term sobriety doesn't pay off. After ultrasounds and blood tests, 10 staffers gave up booze for five weeks, while four continued drinking as they always had. Tests done after the experiment showed that the abstainer participants' liver fat, a precursor to liver disease, had fallen by an average of 15 percent, and their total cholesterol and blood glucose levels had also dropped. They also lost weight and reported better sleep quality.

Experts said they didn't know how long these physical benefits would last, and cautioned against viewing a month's sobriety as a quick fix. But they did conclude that the results were promising—and that they might be even more pronounced if people reduced their overall booze intake year-round.

[h/t Inside Science]

A Low-Carb Diet Could Shorten Your Lifespan

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The Atkins, Paleo, and Keto diets may have different gimmicks, but they all share a common message: Carbs are bad and meat is good. Yet a new analysis reported by New Scientist suggests that anyone who buys into this belief may later come to regret it. According to the paper, published in The Lancet Public Health, people who eat a moderate amount of carbs actually live longer than those who avoid them.

For their study, researchers analyzed data previously collected from 15,400 participants in the U.S. They found that people who received about 50 to 55 percent of their calories from carbohydrates had the longest lifespans, roughly four years longer than those who got 30 percent or less of their energy from carbs.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the key to a healthy diet is to stock your pantry with pasta and croissants. The study also showed that people who got up to 70 percent or more of their energy from carbs died one year earlier on average than subjects in the 50 to 55 percent group. A closer examination at the eating of habits of people who ate fewer carbs revealed another layer to the phenomenon: When people avoided carbohydrates in favor of meat, their chances of early death rose, but the opposite was true for people who replaced carb-heavy foods with plant-based fats and proteins, such as nuts, beans, and vegetables.

These numbers point to something dietitians have long been aware of: Eating a diet that's based around animal products isn't ideal. Getting more of your protein from plant-based sources, on the other hand, can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Nonetheless, fad diets that forbid people from eating carbs while letting them eat as much steak as they want are still popular because they're an easy way to lose weight in a short amount of time. But as the research shows, the short-term results are rarely worth the long-term effects on your health.

[h/t New Scientist]

Ocean Explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau's Tips for Dealing With Seasickness

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Jean-Michel Cousteau—son of the iconic documentary filmmaker and conservationist Jacques Cousteau—claims to have never experienced seasickness himself. The 80-year-old explorer attributes his luck to the amount of time he's spent on boats filming nature documentaries, exploring marine environments, and raising awareness about conservation issues. So what advice does he have when his shipmates start to look a little green around the gills? Thrillist recently reached out to him for an answer.

Cousteau has seen a fellow sailor succumb to the nausea-inducing rocking of a ship many times. When this happens, he says the best thing to do is avoid the bow, or the front of the ship, but resist the urge to hide out below deck—away from any views of the ocean. Motion sickness occurs when the information sensed by our inner ear doesn't match up with what we see in front of us: In the case of sea travel, this could mean you feel the floor of the boat shifting beneath you while the wall of the galley appears to stay still.

Rather than forcing yourself to forget where you are, Cousteau says the most effective approach is to embrace your enemy. Look out at the water and try to appreciate the sights. Staring intently at the horizon will also help re-balance what you're seeing with what you're sensing. Soon you won't be focusing on that queasy feeling in your stomach. “Suddenly, instead of not feeling well, they’re distracted by our profound connection to the oceans," Cousteau told Thrillist.

And if all else fails and your boat is nowhere near dry land, Cousteau suggests a very Cousteau-esque solution: Slip on your scuba gear and get in the water. Of course, that may not be an option depending on what type of voyage you're on. If that's the case, you may want to consider these more conventional motion sickness remedies.

[h/t Thrillist]

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