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Thursday, November 26, 1998 Published at 00:25 GMT


Russians are drinking themselves to death

Vodka: Responsible for increased death rates?

Excessive drinking, it seems, is not confined to the upper echelons of Russian society.

Binge drinking has played a major role in the steep rises since in Russia's death rates since the early 1990s, researchers have found.

The most affected group is young men between the ages of 35 and 49.

The research focused on the daily death rates of Muscovites between 1993 and 1995.

It showed that there was a significant increase in deaths from alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence and cardiovascular disease on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays compared with the rest of the week.

Among 35 to 39 year-olds dying of heart disease, there were 10% fewer deaths on Tuesdays than would be expected, but 15% more deaths on Saturdays.

The findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, are consistent with drinking patterns in Russia.

The authors suggest that alcohol is to blame for these sudden deaths from heart disease.

"There are no other explanations for this pattern, which cannot be accounted for by daily variations in traditional risk factors, such as smoking and lipids," they argue.

The findings also fit in with data showing a decline in death rates during President Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign in the mid-1980s.

Alcohol causes damage

[ image: Young men at particularly at risk]
Young men at particularly at risk
Alcohol is linked to damage to the heart muscle, heart arrhythmias, and heart attacks.

Researchers have also shown that people who suffer from frequent hangovers double their risk of sudden cardiac death.

"In the West, the prevailing view is that alcohol consumpton reduces the risk of heart disease," the authors say.

"We don't deny that alcohol exerts a protective effect on cardiovascular disease, but we challenge the idea that this effect works at all levels of consumption."

Commenting on the research, Dr Witold Zatonski, of The M Sktodowska-Curie Memorial Cancer Centre, Warsaw, Poland, said the problem was that Russians tended to indulge in binge drinking.

He cited a Finnish study that found the risk of lethal myocardial infarction was seven times higher for those who drank six or more bottles of beer at one sitting compared with those who drank three bottles or less.

"The dominant style of drinking in Russia, as well as other countries of the former USSR, is precisely that of consuming large amounts of alcohol at one sitting," he said.

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