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‘We are new Russians’: How a hard-drinking nation curbed its alcohol use

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Once the holder of the dubious title of one of the world’s hardest-drinking nations, Russia has fallen steadily down the list — and Eduard Grigoriev likes to think his group can claim some of the credit.

A volunteer with the group Sober Russia, the 21-year-old is a self-proclaimed liquor vigilante. Since his teens, Grigoriev has been helping police crack down on businesses that break Russia’s ever-stricter liquor laws.

“Four years ago, when we started, eight out of 10 stores in Moscow were selling illegal alcohol. Right now, it’s three out of 10,” said Grigoriev of the role that his band of helpers have played in ensuring liquor violators are brought to the attention of police.

Illegal alcohol sales usually take the form of homemade distilled spirits or legally made products sold after hours. Russian law prohibits any off-licence sales in corner stores or grocery stores past 11 p.m. at night.

The restrictions on availability have been part of a sweeping series of measures enacted by the Russian government since 2005, aimed at curbing widespread alcohol abuse in the country.

In its latest report, the World Health Organization acknowledges the efforts have paid off with significantly lower rates of consumption.

Sweeping restrictions

Grigoriev’s group has affiliations with the governing United Russia party and Vladimir Putin’s administration, but Grigoriev said Sober Russia isn’t political, and everyone who joins is a volunteer.

The group’s tactics involve sending volunteers into corner stores after Russia’s 11 p.m. curfew and entrapping staff who sell booze.

Grigoriev, left, and another Sober Russia member report back on the outcome of their sting operation with a Moscow police officer. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

A crew from CBC’s Moscow bureau was with Grigoriev’s team recently when they visited the city’s southern suburbs and documented several of their ensnarement stings.

“We’re doing this because we think we can make Russia a better place to live in,” Grigoriev explained. “This is our future.”

Grigoriev said that if fewer stores sell illegal alcohol, “the better the alcohol will be in legal stores, and the less people will have health problems.”

Sales of illegally distilled spirits in Russia have been a deadly health problem. In one of the worst cases in recent times, 78 people died in the Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2016 after drinking tainted moonshine.

Last week, police released a video of a police raid in a factory that was manufacturing illegal vodka just outside Moscow. It resulted in the seizure of more than 77,000 bottles. Not long before that, a bust at a factory in the central Russian city of Nefteyugansk netted about 30,000 bottles. Police claim the booze would have made people badly sick.

A nurse walks through the emergency ward at a Russian alcohol rehabilitation clinic. While Russians continue to be heavy drinkers, the World Health Organization considers their fight against alcoholism to be a success story. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

In one of the Sober Russia stings the CBC crew witnessed, a shopkeeper sold several bottles of beer to a volunteer after the 11 p.m. curfew. Then, with our cameras rolling, other members entered the store and confronted the employee, who quickly denied doing anything improper.

Grigoriev’s team then found several large plastic bottles behind the cash register that contained a mixture of alcohol and an energy drink.

“It’s like Red Bull, but with alcohol,” he said. “This is forbidden.”

Less boozy

Twelve years ago, Russians consumed roughly 15 litres of alcohol per person a year, which put them in fourth in the world rankings of the hardest-drinking countries. Now, in Russia, the per capita average is closer to 10 litres. (By comparison, Canada drinks eight litres per capita per year.)

Russia now ranks 14th in terms of alcohol consumption globally, and is comparable to France and Germany.

Notably, the proportion of strong liquor, such as vodka, in the overall mix of Russian alcohol consumption is down substantially, by 31 per cent.    

“Alcohol consumption has decreased a lot,” said professor Yevgeny Yakovlev of Moscow’s New Economic School, where he tracks Russia’s consumption habits.  

“We see that everywhere. Mortality from alcohol poisoning has decreased by 30 per cent,” he said. Yakovlev noted that suicides where alcohol is believed to have played a role have fallen by roughly the same amount in the past 12 years.

“In all of these measures, we see progress,” said Yakovlev.

Yakovlev credits aggressive government measures to restrict alcohol sales and to discourage use, such as increased taxation. 

Drinking in public is still common in Russia. (Mikhail Metzel/Associated Press)

While taxes on alcohol are politically unpopular, the World Health Organization notes that automatic yearly tax increases on booze have contributed to better health outcomes.

Earlier this month, Russia’s health ministry announced it was drafting legislation that could raise the country’s drinking age from 18 to 21. The Moscow Times newspaper cited a poll suggesting strong public support for the higher drinking age.

Healthier choices

Many Russians are making healthier lifestyle choices more generally, which are contributing to the significant decline in alcohol use.

At a gym in eastern Moscow, Yuri Sysoev and Alexei Forsenco have gone further than most Russians in promoting an alcohol-free lifestyle, both in their own choices and with their outreach.

“If I look back, well, basically, I had child alcoholism,” said Sysoev during a break from sparring with a partner in the boxing ring.

Now an actor and filmmaker in Moscow, the 31-year-old Sysoev said the 1990s were a difficult time in Russia. In the post-Soviet economic and political chaos, he said drinking was a means of escape for many.

“I was a little kid in the theatre playing [roles] of gnomes and hobbits, and I got pulled into [binge-drinking culture],” Sysoev said. About nine years ago, an epiphany about the destructive effect alcohol was having on his life prompted him to give it up entirely, he said.

Moscow film producers Yuri Sysoev, left, and Alexei Forsenco gave up drinking and took up fitness. Then they made a movie about why young people should follow their example. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

Forsenco, his 37-year-old friend and business partner, said his story is quite similar, except it took him longer to come to the same realization.

“It wasn’t until I had kids of my own, about five years ago, that I understood alcohol could not be part of my family.”

Forsenco said the decision to abstain from booze often catches the foreigners they meet off guard. But he said no one should be surprised.

“We are new Russians. We don’t drink alcohol.”

The pair have made a short film that they are showing at Russian high schools. They are sharing their experiences with students in the hope of dissuading teenagers from repeating their mistakes.

Entitled The Outcast, the film features a teen walking through an apartment complex who is being taunted by his friends for not drinking after school. Instead of yielding to peer pressure, he stays the course and chooses the healthy option of a good workout.

“I don’t want to brag, but we are the first in Russia to be making a film like this,” said Sysoev.

At a recent showing, students peppered Sysoev and Forsenco with questions about their experience with alcohol and its destructive impact.

“We have to fight this,” Sysoev told the students. “Not with banners and meetings, but [you must] change yourself first, and then the world around you will change.”

While the film has been well received by students, the pair said they have also run into resistance from nervous school administrators, who are afraid The Outcast might portray Russia in a bad light.

While more Russians are opting for healthy lifestyles, Sysoev said there are still too many instances of people walking in their neighbourhoods and seeing what he calls an “alcohol apocalypse” — like drunks sleeping on benches or just staggering around.

“That’s why we wanted to make this film and send a message that a healthy lifestyle and healthy sport is right.”

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Researchers warn about the severe psychological distress caused by eating junk food

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(Natural News) Does junk food make you sad? While the current state of the American food industry is more than enough to make anyone feel depressed, new research from Loma Linda University demonstrates a link between junk-laden diets and psychological distress. Based on their findings, it appears that what you eat can and does affect your mental health — and that the prepackaged garbage peddled as “food” can have a seriously deleterious effect on your emotional well-being.

Even after adjusting for other external factors, the scientists found this relationship held steady: The more junk food a person ate, the more distress they reported feeling. When you consider the physiological effects junk food has on the body, it is no wonder that people report feeling like they are more distressed: They are in distress, they just don’t know it’s because of what the “food” they’re eating is doing to them on the inside.

Estimates suggest that the average American gets 60 percent of their daily calories from processed or junk food. Junk food consumption is a widespread problem here in the United States. Now, there are questions about whether or not junk food is a driving force in the plague of insanity (and stupidity) striking the U.S.

Scientists link junk food to poor mental health

Published in the journal International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in early 2019, a study from Loma Linda University scientists finds a link between poor diet and poor mental health. Even after adjusting for external factors such as gender, age, education and income level, the association between junk food intake and mental illness remained.

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Study leader Jim E. Banta, Ph.D., MPH, an associate professor at the school, says that their conclusions support the findings of previous research. To conduct their study, Banta and his team looked at data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The scientists used 240,000 phone surveys conducted by CHIS between 2005 and 2015, and included data on socio-demographics, health status and health behaviors.

“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavorial medicine,” Banta said of the findings.

“Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health. More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction,” he added.

The fact that scientists in the 21st century are only now just beginning to even consider the possibility of a relationship between nutrition and mental health is truly disturbing. Natural health practitioners have long been aware of the importance of good nutrition for total well-being, including mental state.

Is poor nutrition turning America insane?

Vitamin D deficiency is a well-known cause of depression. B vitamins, iron, selenium and magnesium also support good mental health and deficiencies in these nutrients can also cause depression and anxiety. There is a growing body of research which strongly supports poor nutrition as a causative factor not only in depression, but in other mental illnesses — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD and more.

For example, Dr. Banta notes that some research has linked high sugar consumption to bipolar disorder, while fried foods and processed grains are linked to depression. There is no ignoring the link between diet and disease — whether it is of the body or of the mind makes no difference.

Nearly 60 percent of the American population’s diet comes from disease-causing food, and it is hard not to wonder if obesity, heart disease and death aren’t the only problems being caused by junk food diets.

Are the increasingly insane leftists just running around in a nutrient-deprived, sugar-spiked frenzy? Whether you’re talking about the inanity of “social justice” score-keeping or the rapid acceptance of censorship to silence conservatives, it’s clear that the far left is missing a few bolts upstairs. A diet of GMOs, pesticides and toxic food additives will do that to you, though.

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Eat healthier to improve your physical and mental well-being

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(Natural News) The physical health and mental well-being of a person depend a lot on nutrition and the food that he eats. Diet also influences the risk of developing chronic diseases. While the relationship between physical health and diet is well-understood, little is known about how diet and its quality influence the development of mental disorders. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Regensburg in Germany investigated the behavioral effects of a Western diet on pattern separation – the process of keeping items distinct in memory. They discovered that a diet consisting of increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids (Western diet) harms memory. The results of their study were published in the journal Food Science and Human Wellness.

The Western diet impairs pattern separation

In this study, researchers investigated the utility of spatial separation – a behavioral process associated with the hippocampus – in the assessment of dietary interventions and the behavioral effects of the transgenerational administration of a Western diet on pattern separation. Pattern separation is the process of keeping items distinct in memory and is mediated by the hippocampus. Previous studies have suggested that there is a relationship between hippocampal function and diet quality in both humans and animals.

To examine the association between them, the researchers used rats, feeding over seven generations a diet containing increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids. This diet composition is characteristic of a diet known as the Western diet. The researchers administered it transgenerationally because previous studies have shown that interventional diets need to be implemented over several generations to induce behavioral effects.

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They compared the spatial pattern separation (or local discrimination) performance of these animals with that of rats fed a standard diet. For the test, they presented the rats two locations and allowed them to learn across trials to respond to the correct location. During spatial discrimination training, they designated a location as the correct one and rewarded the rats if they touched the correct location. They reversed the correct and incorrect locations every time the rats successfully got the correct ones nine times out of 10 trials.

The researchers found a separation-dependent difference between the standard and Western diet groups in the number of discriminations performed in the pattern separation task. The rats fed with a Western diet performed fewer discriminations. Rats with lesions in the dorsal hippocampus showed impaired pattern separation when the locations were close together but not when they were far apart. The researchers associated this impairment with hippocampal dysfunctioning. Their results align with previous studies which demonstrated that consumption of a Western diet impaired cognitive functions, damaged brain regions, and contributed to the occurrence of neurodegenerative diseases. Their results confirmed that pattern separation could be negatively affected by transgenerational administration of a Western diet.

The researchers concluded that spatial pattern separation can help detect the effects of dietary interventions and that the Western diet can impair pattern separation.

How to make your diet healthier

A healthy diet can provide many benefits, the most important of which is the prevention of chronic diseases. Here are some things that you can do to make your diet healthier:

  • Eat slowly
  • Choose whole grains
  • Add probiotics to your diet
  • Increase your protein intake
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid frying food and eating fast food
  • Take vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Try new and healthy recipes
  • Eat vegetables first before every meal
  • Eat fruits instead of drinking them
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop drinking sweetened beverages
  • Get adequate sleep

Eating healthier and becoming aware of your nutritional needs will not only improve your physical health, but these will also benefit your mental and emotional well-being.

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Apples: Eat them to keep the doctor away – and boost stem cell therapy

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(Natural News) There is some truth behind the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are superfoods, and they are good sources of antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative damage and boost the immune system. They also contain dietary fiber, which is good for digestion and the maintenance of gut microbiota. But there is more to apples than just being healthy, antioxidant fruits. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrition Research, researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea showed the beneficial effect of apple extracts on the proliferation of adult stem cells. They also identified the possible molecular mechanisms underlying apple’s pro-proliferative effects.

Apple ethanol extracts can enhance the proliferation of stem cells useful for tissue regeneration

Tissue regeneration using adult stem cells (ASCs) has significant potential in the treatment of many degenerative diseases. It also provides a promising means of repairing chronic tissue or organ failure due to injuries, congenital defects, and aging. Stem cells are essential in regenerative medicine because they can be used directly in cell replacement therapies. However, studies on their application in clinical settings suggest that age negatively affects the proliferation status and differentiation potential of ASCs. This presents a possible limitation in their therapeutic use.

In the hopes of addressing this limitation, researchers turned their attention to the pro-proliferative activity of apples. Apples are rich sources of valuable phytochemicals that are known to be beneficial to human health. They possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anticancer activities. These antioxidants can help maintain human cells and protect them from harmful oxidation products. In addition, apples contain metabolites that could ensure longevity and increase the number of human cells in culture. (Related: Apples could hold key for increasing lifespan.)

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Because of this, researchers hypothesized that apple extracts might exert beneficial effects on ASCs. They obtained apple extracts using ethanol as the extraction solvent and tested these on human adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADSCs) and human cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (CB-MSCs). They also used 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide and Click-iT 5-ethynyl-2?-deoxyuridine flow cytometry assays to evaluate the pro-proliferative effects of the extracts.

The researchers found that treatment with apple extracts promoted the proliferation of ADSCs and CB-MSCs. Apple extracts also induced the stepwise phosphorylation of p44/42 MAPK (ERK), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), p70 S6 kinase (p70S6K), S6 ribosomal protein (S6RP), eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4B, and eIF4E in ADSCs. p44/42 MAPK (ERK) is a signaling pathway involved in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation. Inhibition of this pathway results in cell apoptosis. mTOR is a key signaling node that coordinates cell cycle progression and cell growth. p70S6K is a cytokine that regulates cell growth by inducing protein synthesis. eIFs, on the other hand, are proteins or protein complexes involved in translation and protein biosynthesis.

The researchers also reported that apple extracts significantly induced the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) in both ADSCs and CB-MSCs. VEGF is a potent angiogenic factor, which means it promotes the formation of blood vessels. VEGF also plays a role in other physiological functions, such as hematopoiesis, wound healing, and development. IL-6 is a promoter of proliferation. The researchers further confirmed that the apple extract-induced proliferation of ADSCs under serum-free conditions is mediated by ERK-dependent cytokine production because when they pre-treated cells with PD98059, a specific ERK inhibitor, it inhibited the phosphorylation of the mTOR/p70S6K/S6RP/eIF4B/eIF4E pathway.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that extracts from apples are potent pro-proliferative agents, and the beneficial effect of apple extract on the proliferation of ASCs may overcome the limitation in their therapeutic use in tissue regeneration.

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