* A quarter of all Russian men die before age 55
* Vodka a major cause of very high early death risk
* Some men in study drink three or more bottles a week
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Jan 31 A quarter of all Russian men die
before they reach their mid-fifties and their passion for
alcohol - particularly vodka - is largely to blame, according to
research published on Friday.
A study of more than 150,000 people found extraordinarily
high premature death rates among male Russians, some of whom
reported drinking three or more bottles a week of the potent
Perhaps unsurprisingly, deaths among heavy drinkers were
mainly due to alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence and
suicide, as well as diseases such as throat and liver cancer,
tuberculosis, pneumonia, pancreatitis and liver disease.
"Russian death rates have fluctuated wildly over the past 30
years as alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under
presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin, and the main thing
driving these wild fluctuations..was vodka," said Richard Peto
of Britain's Oxford University, who worked on the study.
The researchers, including David Zaridze from the Russian
Cancer Research Centre in Moscow, noted that whereas British
death rates between age 15 and 54 have been falling steadily
since 1980, mainly because so many people there have stopped
smoking, Russian death rates in this age range have fluctuated
sharply - often approximately in line with alcohol consumption.
Under Mikhail Gorbachev's 1985 alcohol restrictions, alcohol
consumption fell by around 25 percent - and so did the death
rates, they said. And when communism in Russia collapsed,
alcohol consumption went up steeply, as did death rates.
More recently, since Russian alcohol policy reforms were
introduced in 2006, consumption of spirits has fallen by about a
third and so has the risk of death before age 55, the
researchers said - although that risk is "still substantial".
For this study, published in the Lancet medical journal,
researchers asked 151,000 people how much vodka they drank, and
whether they smoked, then monitored them for up to a decade.
Around 8,000 of them died during that time, and the results
showed much higher risks of death in men who smoked and who also
drank three or more half-litre bottles of vodka a week than in
men who smoked and drank less than one bottle a week.
Zaridze described the relationship between vodka and deaths
as a "health crisis" for Russia, but stressed it could also be
turned around if people were to drink more moderately.
"The significant decline in Russian mortality rates
following the introduction of moderate alcohol controls in 2006
demonstrates the reversibility," he said.
"People who drink spirits in hazardous ways greatly reduce
their risk of premature death as soon as they stop."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)