In Russia, lower alcohol consumption associated with increase in life expectancy

A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs shown that there is a correlation between lower alcohol consumption and decreased mortality rate. According to the research life expectancy for men and women is 6.1 and 4.7 years longer than it was in 1980, with alcohol consumption patterns playing a significant role.

Researchers utilized the Russian Fertility and Mortality Database to obtain data on death rates and cause of death, including deaths specifically due to alcohol consumption (e.g., alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and cardiomyopathy) as well as deaths frequently related to drinking (e.g., suicide and homicide). They obtained data on life expectancy broken down by sex and beer sales from the Russian Statistical Service. Alcohol consumption rates were estimated using a technique developed by the study’s first author, Alexander Nemtsov, of the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry.

Researchers observed three waves overtime in which drinking and mortality dropped together. The first was 1985 to 1987, a time that corresponded with Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign of the 1980s. Shortly after repeal of these measures in 1990, life expectancy again dropped while alcohol consumption, particularly of illegal vodka, increased.

In the second wave from 1995 to 1998, life expectancy again grew as the economy faltered and alcohol consumption declined. But beginning in 1998, purchasing power increased in Russia, followed by increased drinking and decreased life expectancy.

The third wave, beginning around 2003 and continuing through the present, saw the enactment of a number of government policies aimed at alcohol consumption. These included greater restrictions on hours of sale and the locations in which alcohol can be sold, increases in minimum pricing and alcohol taxes, stricter licensing, and prohibitions on public drinking. At the same time, the authors note that Russian drinking patterns changed, shifting somewhat away from vodka and toward beer.

Although the study can’t prove that the decrease in alcohol consumption directly led to improved life expectancy, the link is strong, waxing and waning in tandem over time.

Alcohol intake and Melanoma risk

Researchers at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island found that alcohol intake was associated with higher rates of invasive melanoma among white men and women. White wine carried the most significant association, and the increased risk was greater for parts of the body that receive less sun exposure. The findings of the study are published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Approximately 3.6 percent of cancer cases worldwide have been attributed to alcohol, most typically cancers of the aerodigestive tract, liver, pancreas, colon, rectum, and breast. Previous research has suggested that alcohol can cause carcinogenesis as the ethanol in alcohol metabolizes into acetaldehyde, which damages DNA and prevents DNA repair.

Eunyoung Cho, ScD, an associate professor of dermatology and epidemiology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and colleagues sought to determine whether alcohol consumption increased melanoma risk. They used data from three large prospective cohort studies in which 210,252 participants were followed for a mean of 18.3 years, using food-frequency questionnaires to determine their alcohol consumption. A standard drink was defined as 12.8 grams of alcohol.

Overall alcohol intake was associated with a 14 percent higher risk of melanoma per drink per day. Each drink per day of white wine was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of melanoma. Other forms of alcohol beer, red wine, and liquor did not significantly affect melanoma risk.

The association between alcohol and melanoma was strongest for parts of the body that typically receive less sun exposure. Cho said that compared with nondrinkers, those who consumed 20 grams or more of alcohol per day were 2 percent more likely to be diagnosed with melanomas of the head, neck, or extremities, but 73 percent more likely to be diagnosed with melanomas of the trunk. She said this finding was novel and further research would be required to explain the results.

Cho said “it was surprising that white wine was the only drink independently associated with increased risk of melanoma. The reason for the association is unknown. However, research has shown that some wine has somewhat higher levels of pre-existing acetaldehyde than beer or spirits. While red and white wine may have similar amounts of pre-existing acetaldehyde, the antioxidants in red wine may offset the risks.”

Cho said the study adds melanoma to the list of cancers associated with alcohol, and the findings support existing recommendations by organizations including the American Cancer Society to limit alcohol intake.

“The clinical and biological significance of these findings remains to be determined, but for motivated individuals with other strong risk factors for melanoma, counseling regarding alcohol use may be an appropriate risk-reduction strategy to reduce risks of melanoma as well as other cancers,” Cho said.

However, Cho pointed out that modest alcohol intake has been connected with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. “For drinkers, risks and benefits of alcohol consumption have to be considered individually, including the risk related to skin cancer,” she said.

Cho said the study’s chief limitation was the homogeneity of the study population. Non-whites were excluded, as there were too few non-white participants to draw statistically valid conclusions. Therefore, the study’s findings cannot be generalized for other racial or ethnic groups.

Also, few study participants reported heavy drinking, and the study did not account for some potential risk factors of melanoma, such as sun-protection behaviors. Participants were excluded if they reported a personal history of cancer at baseline of the follow-up in order to avoid bias due to closer physician follow-up of cancer patients.

Additional Comments
Although the above study shows there is a link between the alcohol and melanoma, further research may be needed to confirm that link as there could be confounding variables in play.

Citation: “Alcohol Intake and Risk of Incident Melanoma: A Pooled Analysis of Three Prospective Studies in the United States.” Andrew Rivera, Hongmei Nan, Tricia Li, Abrar Qureshi and Eunyoung Cho. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers 2016 vol: 25 (12).
DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0303
Research funding: NIH
Adapted from press release by American Association of Cancer Research.