Vodka has been killing young Russian men too soon, according to a study published by The Lancet. The liquor has long been a national symbol of Russia and has been inextricably linked with the nation for years. The liquor has also been a symbol of cool for decades, likely from the second superspy James Bond asked for a martini, shaken and not stirred. Unfortunately, the clear, potent Russian spirit caused the premature deaths of roughly 25 percent of Russian men during the decade-long span of the study.
A University of Oxford study of over 150,000 people from 1998 to 2008 found that death rates for Russian males were three times higher than any other population involved in the study. In fact, compared to the 25 percent of Russian males who died, a mere 7 percent of men from the United Kingdom died prior to the age of 55 during the same time frame.
The study also noted that the risk of premature death among those who drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka weekly rose dramatically depending on how heavily they smoked. Non-smokers reported significantly lower drinking rates than those who did smoke, and while drinking rates certainly fluctuated throughout the 10-year study due to both social and political influences, it was still clear that those who smoked and drank vodka experienced higher mortality rates than those who didn’t smoke or drink heavily.
Some of these Russian men reported drinking over three bottles a week of the spirit, and unsurprisingly, they were more frequently victims of suicide, accidents, violence, and other unpleasant medical issues such as alcohol poisoning. Professor Sir Richard Peto, one of the study authors, noted that both alcohol consumption rates and death rates fell dramatically due to the alcohol restrictions under Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule. Premature death rates rose along with the steep increase in alcohol consumption following communism’s collapse as well.
As vodka continues to kill Russian men, it was noted during the study that men between the ages of 35 and 54 who drank three half-liter bottles or more weekly saw a 20-year risk of death of 35 percent. Those in the same age group who drank one bottle or less saw a 20-year risk of death of 16 percent. Dr. David Zaridze, lead researcher from the study, works with the Russian Cancer Research Centre in Moscow and noted that while British death rates among the same age groups fell steadily over the course of the decade-long study, Russian death rates across the same 35 to 54 cohort rose.
Study authors also noted that since Russia introduced sweeping alcohol policy reforms in 2006, death rates among Russian men fell by a third. They do note, though, that the risk remains significant for those who continue to drink heavily.
While evidence is clear that vodka, when consumed in large quantities, does kill Russian men, the study results don’t come as a significant surprise to those who have cautioned against the dangers of significant alcohol consumption for years. Dr. Zaridze says that the decline in mortality rates since 2006 – the year alcohol policy reforms were introduced in Russia – has shown that the health risks associated with significant alcohol consumption can be reversed.
By Christina St-Jean