The global toll of fetal alcohol syndrome

Brazil Zika Abortion Backlash

The global toll of fetal alcohol syndrome

Study by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health provides worldwide estimates of this preventable birth defect

Worldwide, an estimated 119,000 children are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) each year, a new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, provides the first-ever estimates of the proportion of women who drink during pregnancy, as well as estimates of FAS by country, World Health Organization (WHO) region and worldwide.

Globally, nearly 10 per cent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy, with wide variations by country and WHO region. In some countries, more than 45 per cent of women consume alcohol during pregnancy. In Canada, which has clinical guidelines advising abstinence during pregnancy, an estimated 10 per cent of pregnant women still drink, which is close to the estimated world average.

Nearly 15 per 10,000 people around the world are estimated to have FAS, the most severe form of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FAS is characterized by mental, behavioural and learning problems, as well as physical disabilities. In Canada, the estimate is 10.5 cases of FAS per 10,000 people.

Not every woman who drinks while pregnant will have a child with FAS. “We estimated that one in 67 mothers who drink during pregnancy will deliver a child with FAS,” says lead author Dr. Svetlana Popova, Senior Scientist in CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

She notes that this figure is very conservative and does not include other types of FASD that may occur from alcohol consumption during pregnancy, including partial FAS (pFAS) and Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND).

Although it’s well established that alcohol can damage any organ or system in the developing fetus, particularly the brain, it’s still not known exactly what makes a fetus most susceptible, in terms of the amount or frequency of alcohol use, or timing of drinking during pregnancy. Other factors, such as the genetics, stress, smoking and nutrition also contribute to the risk of developing FASD.

“The safest thing to do is to completely abstain from alcohol during the entire pregnancy,” says Dr. Popova.

The study involved comprehensive literature reviews and statistical analyses to determine the estimates, which are intended to help countries plan public health initiatives and policies, such as FAS surveillance systems and educational efforts on the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy, the researchers note.

The five countries with the highest alcohol use in pregnancy were in Europe: Russia, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belarus and Ireland. As a region, Europe also had a 2.6 higher prevalence of FAS than the global average. The lowest levels of drinking and FAS were found for the Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia regions, as there are high rates of alcohol abstinence in these regions.

The predictive model that the research team developed in this study could also be used to estimate the prevalence of other disease conditions, notes Dr. Popova. Her team is currently extending this work to study the global scale of all fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). An earlier study by Dr. Popova and her team, published in The Lancet last year, showed that more than 400 disease conditions co-occur with FASD.


The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world-leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit or follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.

For more information, please contact:
Sean O’Malley
Media Relations, CAMH
(416) 595-6015

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How a bracelet is helping first responders understand fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

A new MedicAlert program teaches police and paramedics how to approach people with FASD — and keeps those afflicted with the disorder out of prison

Published on Jan 12, 2017

In federal correctional facilities, up to 23 per cent of inmates have FASD, according to the Correctional Investigator of Canada — a rate 28 times higher than in the general population. Youth with FASD are 19 times more likely to be confined to a young-offender’s facility than their unaffected peers, according to a 2013 report from FASD ONE Justice Action Group in Ontario.

FASD comprises an array of conditions that can affect anyone whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Sometimes those conditions manifest physically — smaller head size and shorter height are common — but behaviour problems, poor coordination, and poor impulse control are also prevalent.

Sinclair, like many on the FASD spectrum, doesn’t always grasp the consequences of his actions. When he gets angry, frustrated, or confused, he shuts down, curls up in a ball, and freezes in place. He has a criminal record for theft, possession of drugs, and numerous parole breaches.

“People with FASD, we try to fit in with groups,” he says. “Unfortunately we fit in usually with the wrong crowd.”

Sinclair explains that he is suggestible, wanting people to be his friend, but not always understanding that — in what he calls “the drug-and-alcohol world” — some of those people might be talking to him for the wrong reasons.

“People will be like, ‘Go do this for me,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Oh you are my best friend so okay,’ even though that person doesn’t have my best interests,” he said.

The bracelet will not stop people with FASD from falling in with the wrong crowd — but Catherine Horluck of MedicAlert Foundation Canada says it may keep them from falling into the hands of the justice system.

“The vision is that the bracelet would provide equitable treatment for people with FASD in their time of need,” she said.

The pilot program launched in November 2015 in northern Ontario, and so far 79 people have registered to wear the bracelet. When first responders — whether police, paramedics, or nurses — see the bracelet, they’ll be able to access MedicAlert’s database, which will provide patient details and connect them with family or friends.

“I think many of my officers, like myself, had no idea that it’s a spectrum and there are strategies you can use to have a discussion with these folks,” said John Syrette, chief of the Anishinabek Police Service, which covers part of the area the pilot encompasses.


As part of the program, Syrette and his officers learned what FASD is and what the bracelet signifies. Syrette says his force also learned strategies for dealing with people on the spectrum.

“I hope officers will see this bracelet and think, I have to step back for a second and review my approach, because typically you are trying to take control of a situation and you are trying to bring closure as quickly as possible,” he said. “That’s probably not going to assist this person right now.”

After police got in touch with Sinclair’s contacts through MedicAlert, they took him to his friend’s house, where he was able to settle down — and thereby avoid a stay in the psychiatric centre and criminal charges.

“My best friend of 13 years listens to me talk, and I make better decisions based off of it,” Sinclair said. “He understands me completely.”

Sinclair, who is from Deschambault Lake, part of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, talks openly about his FASD. But Frances Pine, FASD coordinator at the North Shore Tribal Council, an original partner in the MedicAlert program, says there’s a stigma attached to the condition that can make talking about it difficult.

“A lot of people don’t want to confirm they have FASD, you know,” she said. “But when you actually look at the diagnostic criteria, it can happen to anybody.”

If a woman consumes seven drinks in one week or has two binge-drinking episodes (four or more drinks in one night) during her pregnancy, Pine explained, the child is at risk.

“That’s Christmas holidays. That’s frosh week. That’s a family reunion. It can happen to anybody,” she said. “Most women don’t know they are pregnant until between six and 12 weeks, and the threshold is you can start doing damage as early as two weeks.”

Pine says the new bracelet can help educate people and attenuate the stigma. It’s also an important tool for families affected by the FASD.

“It gives them a sense of security,” she says. “If you are not there for them in that moment and time when they need somebody, you want something there to help speak for them, because you know at that moment when their fight or flight is kicking in that they are not going to be thinking rationally.”

MedicAlert is helping 35 organizations who work with FASD-afflicted people bring the bracelet program — now in its second year — to their communities. The plan over the next two years is to make the bracelet and training accessible across Canada.

Sinclair knows his situation could’ve turned out differently had he not been wearing the bracelet that night last spring. He could easily be behind bars. Instead he’s running the FASD Northern Ontario Facebook page and doing advocacy work to reduce the stigma that surrounds the condition.

“If you are on the spectrum it’s being able to say, ‘Hey, I’m FASD — you have to do things different,’” he said. “I get the same results done; I just do it differently.”

Geraldine Malone is a Munk Global Journalism Fellow who covers Indigenous communities and the penal system.

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10 reasons to cut back on alcohol


Some people overestimate how much they can drink. The first step in deciding whether we need to cut back is to consider how many standard drinks are in that glass of wine, beer or spirit.

Check our the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse drinking guidelines 

A miscalculation increases the risk of drinking more than you should. Here are 10 reasons to cut down on drinking.


Reducing alcohol intake means you might find it easier to manage your weight. Some drinks may have as many calories as high-fat foods.

In a British study, alcohol represented a large proportion of calories consumed (over 25 per cent for men and nearly 20 per cent for women) on the heaviest drinking day – and these are calories with little or no nutritional value.

There was a link to obesity, but the relationship is complex.

Some heavy drinkers do not eat well, partly contributing to the paradoxical observation that some heavy drinkers are underweight, rather than overweight.

Health problems such as liver disease, brain injury, cancer and heart problems are strongly linked to drinking alcohol, and the more you drink, the greater the risk.


Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of mental and physical health problems.

Depression and anxiety are more common after heavy drinking.

If you have trouble sleeping, cutting back on alcohol might help. You might fall asleep more quickly after drinking, but heavy drinking can result in poor-quality sleep, meaning worse hangover effects.


Alcohol-affected choices are not always the best ones. You might think you are the life of the party, but others may be less impressed.

Serious relationship problems can be related to alcohol.

A recent Australian report found that about one-third of all intimate partner violence was linked to alcohol. If drinking is causing friction with friends, partners or family members, cutting back can make a huge difference.


Australian households on average spend the same amount on alcohol as they do on domestic fuel and power. Drinking less will make less of a dent on the annual bill.


If you are thinking about having a baby or if you are pregnant, the safest option is not to drink.

Drinking before breastfeeding is not advisable because some of the alcohol will find its way into the breast milk.

The more you drink, the greater the risk to your baby’s well-being. It is safest not to drink at all when you are pregnant.

Fathers should also think about their drinking habits. There is emerging evidence that alcohol consumption by the father can have an impact on pregnancy health, on maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, on foetal outcomes and on infant health outcomes.


You should try to cut back on alcohol if there is a family member who has a history of dependence.

This increases your own risk of becoming alcohol-dependent too.


If you use other medications, you significantly increase the risk to your health by drinking alcohol.

For example, alcohol can combine with depressant drugs such as those used to treat pain to increase the risk of impaired driving as well as the risk of overdose.

It is important to be aware of this and seek advice from an addiction specialist or your doctor.


Studies show that alcohol intake can disrupt the brain development of young people, which can affect their capacity to learn, make good decisions and do well at school.


Older people are more likely to experience health conditions that are exacerbated by alcohol use.

Changes in the body can mean that you are more affected by alcohol. Older people are also more at risk of alcohol-related falls and injury.


Intoxication can result in a range of injuries at the workplace and on the roads. It can also lead to violent behaviour.

By drinking less and drinking slowly, you can reduce the chances of putting yourself and others at risk because of intoxication.

You should take drinks together with food, or after you have had something to eat.

Written by: Steve Allsop and Tina Lam

Retrieved from:

  • Steve Allsop is a professor at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, and Tina Lam is a research fellow there.
  • This article first appeared in The Conversation (, a website which carries analysis by academics and researchers.

Ready or Not Alberta

Ready or Not Alberta

Ready to start trying?

For men and women, being healthy will benefit both you and your baby. Plan to be healthy.

Not ready to start trying?

For both men and women, planning to not have a baby takes some healthy thinking too—especially with 40% of pregnancies unplanned.

For information on both topics, check out Alberta Health Services ‘Ready or Not Alberta’ website!


‘Too Young To Drink’. An international communication campaign to raise public awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

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Prenatal exposure to alcohol can cause a range of lifelong physical, behavioural, and intellectual disabilities, collectively known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASD is recognized to be an international public health problem. The prevalence of FASD is estimated to be as high as 2-5% in the USA and some Western European countries, with higher numbers in some areas of the world. Although FASDs are preventable by abstaining from alcohol use during pregnancy, one major obstacle to prevention around the world is the widespread lack of awareness and recognition of FASD. Increasing awareness about the risks of drinking during pregnancy is considered the first step towards FASD prevention.

Numerous approaches have been taken to raise awareness of FASD around the world, but only on a regional or national level. Few prevention campaigns have been systematically evaluated, so the effects of these campaigns are not clear. Therefore, an international network of partners coordinated by the European FASD Alliance, in collaboration with the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) and the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (EUROCARE), organized an international awareness campaign, called ‘Too Young to Drink’, that was launched on September 9, 2014, International FASD Awareness Day.

The objectives of the campaign were: (1) to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy among women of childbearing age and in the general global population; (2) to spread accurate, research-based information on the risks of using alcohol during pregnancy; and (3) to connect the various entities working in the field of FASD all around the world, to share best practices and to create the basis for future collaborations and joint efforts. The campaign used theoretical models of social marketing applied to health promotion. These models are based on the concept of ‘value network’ and on the theory of ‘holistic marketing’. They develop the concept of ‘network’ and ‘relationship’ as factors that can give added value to health products (goods and services) for the community.

The approach aimed to spread information among the general population, sharing ideas and using the power of the Internet and social media. The launch followed the methods of ‘guerrilla marketing’, a strategy borrowed from advertising, which uses unconventional low-cost techniques to catch the attention and the emotions of the public towards an issue, e.g., by displaying or distribute materials in public spaces.

The goal of this manuscript is to describe a unique public awareness campaign that was accomplished without finances and included untraditional partners from across the oceans. The manuscript outlines how social media brought small groups together, tracked how the campaign messages spread and helped to evaluate the dissemination and effectiveness of the campaign.

Have a read, just click tytd


CCSA: Call for Abstracts


CCSA is pleased to announce the Call for Abstracts for IOS 2017. Abstracts must be submitted no later than January 27, 2017, as detailed below.

Individuals and teams are encouraged to submit abstracts that stimulate ideas and discussion, promote learning of knowledge and skills, and energize attendees to participate in debate.

Presentation Formats and Themes

We are seeking presentations, posters and workshops on policies, programs and frameworks that include evidence-informed practices, emerging research and innovative knowledge exchange strategies. Abstracts are welcomed on all substances, including alcohol, and licit and illicit drugs, and on gambling. Although all abstracts will be considered, we are looking for submissions that support the following subthemes:

  • Innovative and novel approaches to service delivery (e.g., technology-assisted therapy, mobile apps, therapy animals)
  • Substance use and co-occurring issues/disorders (e.g., mental health, suicide, trauma, family violence, intimate partner violence, chronic pain, FASD)
  • Responsible and problem gambling
  • Overdose prevention and management
  • Cannabis (e.g., policy development and implications, medical use, etc.)
  • Prescription drugs, including opioids
  • Indigenous approaches to addressing substance use and healing
  • Health promotion, substance use prevention and early identification
  • Alcohol
  • Public health approaches to substance use across the continuum of care (e.g., managed alcohol programs)
  • Recovery, health and well-being
  • Specific populations (e.g., youth, incarcerated persons, older adults, people who are homeless, new Canadians)
  • Sex- and gender-appropriate approaches to substance use
  • Drugs of evolving legal status (e.g., novel psychoactive substances, e-cigarettes)
  • Innovative methods to bringing research to practice
  • Stigma

Applicants must submit their abstracts by January 27, 2017. Abstracts should be 250 words or less in English or French and apply to one of the aforementioned formats. If you have any questions, please contact

For more information, including information on how to obtain presenter subsidies if qualified, please consult the Call for Abstracts document.

We are proof Dry January really IS worth doing: 5 drinkers who gave up alcohol for a month reveal their astonishing results

We are proof Dry January really IS worth doing: 5 drinkers who gave up alcohol for a month reveal their astonishing results

  • Ever tried giving up alcohol to make up for the excesses of the Christmas period?
  • It’s popular with medical experts, who warn Britain suffers an alcohol epidemic
  • Giving up alcohol for a month transformed the health of these five volunteers 

Most of us are familiar with the idea of Dry January — giving up alcohol for the month, often in an attempt to make up for the excesses of the Christmas period.

It’s a concept popular with medical experts, who are warning that Britain is in the grip of an alcohol epidemic.

More than ten million Britons drink to harmful levels, regularly exceeding the recommended maximum of 14 units a week (a medium glass of wine is two units, as is a pint of beer), according to a report last month by Public Health England.

We asked five brave people who all drink over the official limit — most would be classed as heavy drinkers — to give up alcohol for a month

We asked five brave people who all drink over the official limit — most would be classed as heavy drinkers — to give up alcohol for a month

And nearly two million of us are thought to be heavy drinkers — defined for women as having more than 35 units (three-and-a-half bottles of wine) a week, or for men, more than 50.

Exceeding limits is easily done — for example, a large glass of wine can equal a third of a bottle — and drinking at this level can leave you with more than just a hangover.

Not only is alcohol high in calories, but heavy drinking contributes to high blood pressure and cholesterol — and probably increases blood sugar levels by making the hormone insulin less effective at processing sugars, raising the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Plus as the liver breaks down alcohol, it produces toxins that damage cells, leading to inflammation and scarring.

Alcohol also increases the risk of cancer, stroke, dementia and heart disease.

Such is the concern about the number of people with liver damage that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) last month proposed that all heavy drinkers should have a scan to screen for liver disease.

But it’s not just the liver that suffers, so too can your sleep, says Professor Kevin Moore, a liver specialist at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

‘Regular drinkers often have impaired sleep because they are more likely to snore or wake more frequently during the night as a consequence of their poor breathing, or because they need to use the bathroom, leaving them with poor concentration during the day,’ he says.

But is giving up alcohol for a month enough to undo this damage to your body? Experts believe so.

‘Our recent research on people drinking an average of 35 units a week has shown that going dry for just one month decreases liver stiffness [a sign of liver damage] by 10-15 per cent and leads to significant reductions in weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin resistance,’ says Professor Moore.

‘So it is well worth it.’

To find out for ourselves, we asked five brave people who all drink over the official limit — most would be classed as heavy drinkers — to give up alcohol for a month.

They then had their weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, and underwent various other blood tests before and after their alcohol-free month.

‘Blood tests measuring levels of certain liver enzymes provide important information about how healthy the liver is,’ says Professor Moore.

The volunteers also had an ultrasound scan of the liver, known as Fibroscan.

This involves ‘flicking’ the organ with a vibration sent through the skin to see how the liver responds.

‘A wobbly liver (with a score of less than seven) is healthy, while a stiffer liver, with a higher score, is a sign of damage, inflammation and scarring,’ he adds.

Here, we reveal our volunteers’ surprising results.


Gordon Charlton (pictured) enjoys a couple of pints of beer after leaving work, then a couple of glasses of wine at home. At a gig, he can drink three beers

Gordon Charlton (pictured) enjoys a couple of pints of beer after leaving work, then a couple of glasses of wine at home. At a gig, he can drink three beers.

Gordon Charlton, 55, manager of a music publishing company, lives with his wife, Yvonne, 53, and his two children, Ollie, 19, and Emily, 22, in Biddenham, Bedford.

He drinks between 60 and 70 units a week.

Gordon enjoys a couple of pints of beer after leaving work, then a couple of glasses of wine at home. At a gig, he can drink three beers.

On Saturdays, he drinks four or five pints watching football and on Sundays he has wine with lunch.

He doesn’t normally drink on Mondays and Tuesdays, and does a three-mile and five-mile run each week, a spinning class once a week and walks to and from the station.


Weight before: 18 st 8 lb (5 ft 7 in tall)

After: 18 st 6 lb

Liver stiffness before: 6.85 (borderline unhealthy)

After: 4.52 (normal)

Enzymes showing liver damage (three tested) before: Two high, one healthy

After: Two high, one healthy

Blood pressure before: 144/92 (anything over 140/90 is high)

After: 134/80 (normal)

At the start of the experiment, a scan showed Gordon had the beginnings of fatty liver — a build-up of fat in the liver cells which can be caused by alcohol and can lead to scarring.

After a month without alcohol, his liver had improved and become less stiff, and his levels of the liver enzyme gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) — released in the blood when the liver is damaged — reduced.

Before giving up alcohol, Gordon’s levels were high at 57, but they fell to 46, this is still higher than a normal reading, which is less than 36).

He also lost 2 lb despite eating more and his blood pressure dropped from high to within the normal range.

Professor Moore says:

‘Most people of Gordon’s weight will have a fatty liver.

‘His saving grace is that he regularly works out — studies suggest exercise may protect the body against the harmful effects of alcohol by mobilising fat in the liver.

‘Though most of Gordon’s other results were normal, the liver checks before the experiment suggested that drinking is starting to affect his body.

‘However, once he stopped, his liver stiffness and GGT levels dropped.

‘These enzyme levels are still above normal, so it would be a good idea for him to cut down on alcohol.

‘I had expected him to lose more weight but he came down with a cold — this limited his exercise.’

Gordon says:

‘Over the past year, I have been drinking more regularly because of extra pressure at work, and had caught myself looking forward to my next drink.

‘Giving up alcohol wasn’t that hard, even though it included my birthday and work Christmas party.

‘Without doubt, I feel more on an even keel emotionally, have more energy, my concentration has improved and I have enjoyed not feeling groggy during the day — though I did substitute drink for ice cream.

‘I’m thinking about giving up for six months.’


Aimee Bradley, 33, a beauty therapist, lives in Havant, Hampshire, with her husband, Davin, 33, and their three-year-old daughter, Autumn. She drinks 70+ units a week.

Aimee started drinking regularly after her mother died in 2009.

At one point she was drinking two to three bottles of wine — usually prosecco — a night.

Now she drinks a bottle a night, but tries to have a couple of dry days a week.

Over two years, Aimee has gained almost 4 st through drinking. She does yoga daily at home.

Aimee Bradley (pictured) started drinking regularly after her mother died in 2009. At one point she was drinking two to three bottles of wine — usually prosecco — a night

Aimee Bradley (pictured) started drinking regularly after her mother died in 2009. At one point she was drinking two to three bottles of wine — usually prosecco — a night


Weight before: 14 st 5 lb (5 ft 6 in tall)

After: 14 st

Liver stiffness before: 4.19 (normal)

After: 3.23 (normal)

Enzymes showing liver damage before: Two very high, one high

After: Three high

Blood pressure before: 112/74 (normal)

After: 118/78 (normal)

Aimee’s levels of key liver enzymes were very high — her GGT was eight times the normal level for women.

There are two other enzymes — aspartate transaminase (AST) and alanine transaminase (ALT) — which increase when the liver is inflamed or damaged.

Aimee’s levels of both were raised, with her ALT four times the usual level — suggesting alcohol misuse. Her sleep quality was also poor.

After the four weeks off alcohol, her GGT dropped by a third and her ALT level more than halved.

Professor Moore says:

‘I was surprised when I saw Aimee’s initial ultrasound scan.

‘She should by rights have a fatty liver, just by weight gain alone, and certainly with the amount of alcohol she consumes.

‘However, the blood tests showed that alcohol is still having a significant impact on her liver health.

‘When she stopped drinking, all liver enzymes decreased significantly, suggesting her liver was starting to repair.

‘But the levels are still much higher than normal, so I’d recommend she stays off alcohol, as she is at risk of developing cirrhosis [liver scarring]. She should also take up more exercise.’

Aimee says:

‘I’m terrified by the results. I lost my mum at 25 and want to make sure I’m around for my daughter Autumn.

‘I found giving up alcohol hard — a couple of times I opened a bottle of wine just to sniff it.

‘I ate more to compensate but still lost weight, and I felt less sluggish. Now I’ll only drink on special occasions.’


Sam Mitchell-Innes drinks on average 25 to 40 units a week. Sam drinks two glasses of red wine five days a week. He gives up alcohol for six weeks every Lent

Sam Mitchell-Innes drinks on average 25 to 40 units a week. Sam drinks two glasses of red wine five days a week. He gives up alcohol for six weeks every Lent.

Sam Mitchell-Innes, 62, owner of a brand design consultancy, is divorced with two children — Kit, 30, and Phoebe, 26 — and lives in Ealing, West London.

He drinks on average 25 to 40 units a week.

Sam drinks two glasses of red wine five days a week. He gives up alcohol for six weeks every Lent.

Each day he cycles 22 miles and he sees a personal trainer once a week.


Weight before: 15 st 1 lb (6 ft 2 in tall)

After: 14 st 13 lb

Liver stiffness before: 4.8 (normal)

After: 3.9 (normal)

Enzymes showing liver damage before: One high, one borderline high, one healthy

After: Three healthy

Blood pressure before: 142/82 (high)

After: 134/78 (normal)

Before the experiment, Sam’s blood pressure was slightly high, as was his cholesterol at 5.6 mmoles/litre (less than 5 is considered ideal).

Sam’s levels of AST and ALT were also higher than normal.

After the experiment, Sam’s blood pressure fell to within the normal range, and he lost 2 lb.

Most notably, his levels of AST more than halved, bringing it into the normal range, and his ALT also dropped from 27 to 21 (under 31 is considered healthy). His liver stiffness also reduced.

Professor Moore says:

‘Sam’s initial ALT and AST levels can be a sign of alcohol misuse or scarring of the liver, which could be caused by years of drinking.

‘However, they can also be caused by muscle injury, which may be the reason in Sam’s case as he cycles.

‘Again, exercise seems to be protecting Sam. After giving up alcohol, all his liver function results were normal.

‘This shows the benefits of giving up for a few weeks to allow the liver to recover.’

Sam says:

‘My concentration improved, I felt physically better, particularly in the mornings, and slept through to when my alarm clock rang.

‘I’m very impressed. I now want to drink less frequently.’


Lucy O’Grady, 41, a carer for her autistic son, Stirling, 11, lives with her partner, Pietro, 32, in South London. She drinks 70+ units a week.

After a bout of depression last year, brought on by family problems, Lucy turned to alcohol to unwind.

She regularly drinks a bottle of red wine a night and often has a beer in the day. Lucy goes to the gym every other day.

After a bout of depression last year, brought on by family problems, Lucy O'Grady (pictured) turned to alcohol to unwind

After a bout of depression last year, brought on by family problems, Lucy O’Grady (pictured) turned to alcohol to unwind.


Weight before: 9 st 5 lb (5 ft 7 in tall)

After: 9 st 6 lb

Liver stiffness before: 4.45 (normal)

After: 4.73 (normal)

Enzymes showing liver damage before: Three healthy

After: Three healthy

Blood pressure before: 118/72 (normal)

After: 110/70 (normal)

Despite her high alcohol intake, Lucy’s test results were within normal levels. After four weeks alcohol-free, her sleep and concentration improved.

Professor Moore says:

‘Lucy drinks heavily by all definitions. I had expected to find abnormal liver function in the tests and was surprised that her results were good.

‘Exercise may partly explain her good results — or she may simply have good genes. Importantly, giving up alcohol has challenged her psychological dependence on it.’

Lucy says:

‘It felt as if something was missing when I didn’t drink, I leant on alcohol for confidence.

‘However, it was taking its toll on my skin and I didn’t like how irritable it made me.

‘I really didn’t know if I could give it up — but I did and it helped me lose my taste for it.

‘I slept better and felt fresher. It’s been a really positive experience and I’ve also saved a lot of money — around £120.’


John Browne (pictured) relaxes with a few beers after work. At weekends he drinks six or seven pints of Guinness at the pub, then switches to cider or whiskey with water

John Browne (pictured) relaxes with a few beers after work. At weekends he drinks six or seven pints of Guinness at the pub, then switches to cider or whiskey with water.

John Browne, 36, a chef from Wembley, North London, is single with two children aged five and seven. He drinks 46 units a week.

John relaxes with a few beers after work. At weekends he drinks six or seven pints of Guinness at the pub, then switches to cider or whiskey with water.

John does little exercise and has a family history of alcoholism.


Weight before: 10 st 2 lb (5 ft 9 in tall)

After: 9 st 13 lb

Liver stiffness before: 5.08 (normal)

After: 7 (borderline unhealthy)

Enzymes showing liver damage before: Three healthy

After: Three healthy

Blood pressure before: 124/74 (normal)

After: 108/60 (normal)

John’s cholesterol was high at 5.9, but after the experiment it dropped slightly to 5.7.

While his sleep remained poor (he only sleeps for four hours) his concentration improved.

Professor Moore says:

‘Before the experiment, John’s test results were all normal, apart from his raised cholesterol — studies have suggested that cholesterol decreases when people stop drinking alcohol.

‘His significant drop in blood pressure (though not high initially) may be the result of not drinking alcohol — but I have no idea why his liver stiffness seemed to increase.’

John says:

‘My hangovers can be bad — my head pounds so much I have to press it against the wall.

‘It was hard giving up alcohol and there were a couple of times when I was tempted.

‘My concentration has improved since the experiment and I’m sure not drinking has contributed to that.

‘Since the end of the experiment two weeks ago, I have drunk only one bottle of beer and four or five vodkas — and I intend to keep it that way.’

What a booze-free month can achieve

‘After just a month, almost everyone’s blood pressure reduced, lowering the risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney damage in the long term,’ says Professor Moore.

‘Most lost weight even though some were eating more and exercising less. Giving up alcohol also improved everyone’s sleep and concentration.

‘The fact that only one patient (Aimee) had significantly abnormal liver function test results before going alcohol-free fits with what we know — that only 20 per cent of people who drink excess alcohol develop liver disease.

‘However, alcohol can affect people’s lives in many ways — not just health.’

Before their alcohol-free month, each volunteer was assessed to ensure it was safe for them to stop drinking — it can be unsafe to suddenly stop if you are dependent on alcohol.

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