A recent study involving researchers from Oxford University has found excessive vodka consumption to be a major cause of early death for Russian men.The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, asked 151,000 adults in three typical Russian cities about their drinking habits. Amongst this group of people, there were 8000 deaths over the period. The researchers then followed up to investigate the causes for their deaths. It shows that the risk of death for smokers from 35 to 55 years old who had reported drinking more than three bottles of vodka a week is more than twice higher than people who reportedly consumed less than a bottle a week. The possibility that a 15 year old will die before the age of 55 is 25% for Russian males, compared to around 7% for UK.This new study confirms the findings of a retrospective study published five years ago also in The Lancet. In that study, researchers knocked on the doors of the families of 50,000 people who had died in the three cities to find out how much alcohol the deceased person used to consume.Both studies revealed the unusual and volatile fluctuations of Russian death rates. It is from these fluctuations that researchers were able to establish the relationship between alcohol consumption and high death rate.Professor Richard Peto, the co-director of Clinical Trial Service Unit at Oxford, was part of the team for the studies. He explained, “The fluctuation in death rate of middle aged men in Russia is extraordinary. And this can only be explained by changes in the level of alcohol consumption. When Gorbachev restricted alcohol in 1985, the death rate decreased along with the decrease in use of alcohol. After the Soviet Union collapses in the 1991, the ability to control alcohol was fading, a lot of the workers were out of job, that’s when there was a big increase in alcohol and a surge of death rate from 20% to about 40%.” “The high death rate in that period can not be attributed to other diseases such cancer, since the cancer rate remains fairly constant. It wasn’t due to the collapse of health care, because child mortality, or the death rate for older people, the statistics which are most vulnerable to lack of health care, were quite stable as well.”The major effects of alcohol on these deaths were very short-term, Professor Peto commented. The causes for the deaths of heavy drinkers were mainly suicide, violence, traffic accidents, alcoholic poisoning and eight categories of disease strongly associated with alcohol including acute pancreatitis, tuberculosis and throat cancer.The idea of the research originated in the 1970s when Professor David Zaridze, a Russian epidemiologist spent a year working at Oxford. The research was planned to investigate the relationship between tobacco consumption and death rate. Professor Peto said, ‘We did studies in India, China and US, and tobacco is usually the most influential factor for middle age men. But Russia is very different, as we found out for men younger than 55 years old, alcohol is the major cause.”Ekaterina Savishchenko, the publicity officer of Oxford University Russia Society commented, “I agree vodka is a problem. It is a national drink just like sake for Japan, or ale for UK. It is good for the occasions. Three bottles a week really sounds like a lot. But, heavy drinkers will usually drink anything, so it is not just vodka that we should blame. Smoking and lack of the culture of gyming or exercising also cannot be ignored.”The death rate, however, has seen a large decrease of 12% since the 2006 alcohol regulation from the height of 37% in 2005. Professor Peto said, “if it is possible to reduce the death rate by 12%, it is also possible to reduce it by another 12% by 2020, if people stop drinking dangerously. Then the death rate would be near 10%, which is where it should be.”The study will still go on with statistics for the year 2013 about to release in the coming weeks and continue to track the correlation between alcohol and death rate in Russia.