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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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Herbal remedies: Saw palmetto for hair loss prevention

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(Natural News) Saw palmetto is a small, shrub-like palm endemic to the United States. Known for its medicinal properties, saw palmetto has been used for centuries to treat reproductive issues and hormonal imbalance.

Today, saw palmetto is used as an ingredient in many hair growth products and supplements, as it is thought to prevent hair loss. This could be due to saw palmetto’s influence on the hormones that dictate hair growth.

Saw palmetto for hair loss

There is evidence to suggest that saw palmetto can help treat hair loss and prevent its occurrence. According to a 2012 study, saw palmetto could inhibit 5-alpha reductase (5-AR). 5-AR converts testosterone, a male sex hormone, into a more potent hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Research shows that high levels of DHT can shrink hair follicles and result in hair loss. DHT also makes it harder for hair follicles to grow new hair once the old hairs fall out. By inhibiting 5-AR, saw palmetto blocks the conversion of testosterone to DHT.

In another 2012 study, researchers evaluated the effects of saw palmetto supplementation in men with mild or moderate androgenetic alopecia, or male-pattern baldness. One group received 320 milligrams (mg) of saw palmetto every day for two years, while another group took one mg of finasteride, a conventional drug used to treat hair loss.

The results showed that 38 percent of participants who supplemented with saw palmetto experienced improvements in hair growth, compared to 68 percent of those who supplemented with finasteride.

While the experiment showed that finasteride was more effective, the researchers noted that saw palmetto may be less likely to work in people with more severe cases of hair loss. More research is needed to confirm this.

Saw palmetto is available in several forms, including oral supplements and hair care products like conditioners and shampoos.

Due to limited research on the use of saw palmetto for hair loss, there is no official recommended dosage for it. That said, a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery cited a recommended dosage of 160 mg twice daily for saw palmetto tablets. Researchers often use this dosage when studying with saw palmetto.

Take note that saw palmetto has been reported to sometimes cause mild side effects, such as headaches and stomachaches. If in doubt about using saw palmetto, consult a natural health practitioner.

Other natural remedies for hair loss

Hair growth depends on several factors, including a person’s genetic makeup. Still, some home remedies might help prevent hair loss and/or encourage hair growth. These remedies include:

  • Jojoba oil – Jojoba oil helps nourish hair follicles without leaving any residue behind. It also stimulates hair cells to grow faster.
  • Aloe vera – Aloe vera helps get rid of sebum buildup in the scalp. Sebum is a natural oil that helps keep the scalp moisturized. It can build up on the scalp and clog hair follicles due to poor hair hygiene.
  • Garlic – The pungent compounds in garlic help increase blood circulation in the scalp, which stimulates hair growth. These compounds also stimulate the synthesis of collagen, a protein that gives structure to hair.
  • Onion – Like garlic, onions boost blood flow in the scalp for better hair growth.
  • Licorice root – Licorice root helps relieve dry and irritated scalp. It also strengthens weak follicles.
  • Rosemary oil – Rosemary oil has antiseptic properties. It is ideal for treating scalp issues that slow hair growth, such as dandruff and bacterial infections.
  • Coconut milk – Coconut milk helps moisturize a dry scalp, which is a leading cause of hair loss.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar works as a clarifying agent, ridding the scalp of extra sebum and other residues that can clog hair follicles and inhibit hair growth.

Some hair loss is natural. But for mild to moderate cases of hair loss, it might help to use herbal remedies, such as saw palmetto, to strengthen hair or encourage hair growth.

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Scientist that condemned coronavirus lab leak theory admits he squashed it to protect Chinese scientists

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(Natural News) An American scientist who criticized theories that the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) might have accidentally escaped or leaked from a Chinese laboratory has admitted that he was denouncing the idea in order to protect Chinese scientists.

Dr. Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nongovernmental organization that conducts scientific and policy research regarding emerging diseases, led an endeavor in February 2020 to quash any kind of suspicion that COVID-19 might have accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research and academic institution supported by the Chinese state.

This culminated in a statement published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet that condemned the “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 doesn’t have a natural origin.”

The Lancet article was written during the very early stages of the global pandemic, during a time when there wasn’t any kind of rigorous research on the origins of the virus.

Daszak further reiterated his support for China in a statement released on Feb. 6, stating that he stands with other scientists to “strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that 2019-nCoV does not have a natural origin. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this virus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging diseases.”

In June, Daszak also wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian titled: “Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know COVID-19 wasn’t created in a lab.”

But on Friday, Jan. 15, Daszak’s spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that his statement, which has been used to silence anybody with a dissenting opinion regarding the origins of the coronavirus, was published to protect Chinese scientists from criticism.

The Lancet letter was written during a time in which Chinese scientists were receiving death threats and the letter was intended as a showing of support for them as they were caught between important work trying to stop an outbreak and the crush of online harassment.”

WHO team heads to Wuhan to probe virus origin

The situation surrounding Daszak’s initial statements and his sudden retraction are being compounded by the fact that the doctor is part of an international 15-member team of experts sent by the World Health Organization (WHO)to Wuhan to figure out the origins of the coronavirus.

According to the WHO, the team’s official mission is to determine how, where and when the virus crossed from animals to humans.

Daszak has been tweeting about the mandatory quarantine period he and his team are going through. During day four of quarantine, he said that the day, like the previous days, is “packed” with virtual meetings.

Day 6 of quarantine lockdown in Wuhan & it’s that special time for our friendly health care workers to swab for our PCR tests – they go deep, but they’re very cheerful about it. Xie xie! pic.twitter.com/QvKzgC0Lng

— Peter Daszak (@PeterDaszak) January 20, 2021

Peter Ben Embarek, team leader and WHO food safety and animal diseases expert, said that the team will be granted permission “to move around and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we want to visit,” once they’re done with the mandatory quarantine period.

It is unclear whether the WHO team will be looking into the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the theory that the coronavirus was engineered. Embarek has stated his desire to visit the “famous Wuhan market” to try and determine “everything that went in and out” of there in the weeks before the first confirmed cases.

Embarek is referring to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where many wild animals were often sold. This place is being investigated as a likely setting for the supposed “animal-to-human jump” of the coronavirus, or a place where that jump was accelerated.

“We know the virus originated in bats at some point, and then we know that human cases appeared in Wuhan in December 2019,” said Embarek. “But what happened in between, how many other animal species were involved in between, and where, remain to be found in more detail.”

“We don’t really know what happened in that period of time, and that’s what we are looking out for.”

Questions will remain regarding the role of the institute in the initial outbreak; questions that will continue to linger if WHO team does not conduct its investigation.

Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even said that the government has reason to believe that several researchers working for the institute “became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

Pompeo said that this calls into question the claims made by Shi Zhengli, the institute’s senior researcher on bat-related viruses, that there had been “zero [COVID-19 or SARS-related] infection” among the institute’s student body and staff.

Pompeo noted that the possibility of an “accidental infection” in a lab is more likely than people might think, especially considering that such an incident has already occurred in China. In 2004, a SARS outbreak in Beijing that infected nine people and killed one originated in a research facility.

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California healthcare workers suffer severe allergic reactions following coronavirus vaccination

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(Natural News) Six healthcare workers suffered allergic reactions after getting a shot of Moderna coronavirus vaccine in San Diego, California. Their symptoms were considered severe and required medical attention.

The doses administered to the six healthcare workers were part of the Moderna Lot 041L20A distributed to 287 providers across the state earlier this month. That batch of shipment, which arrived in California between Jan. 5 and Jan. 12, is composed of 330,000 shots.

Moderna said in a statement that it is cooperating with California’s health department to investigate the allergic reactions.

“Moderna acknowledges receiving a report from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that a number of individuals at one vaccination center were treated for possible allergic reactions after vaccination from one lot of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine,” the statement read. “The company is fully cooperating with CDPH in investigating these reported adverse events.”

Dr. Erica Pan, California’s state epidemiologist, said Sunday, Jan. 17, that providers should err on the side of caution and stop using the doses until federal, state and company officials finish an investigation.

“Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory and pause the administration of vaccines from Moderna Lot 041L20A until the investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Moderna and the state is complete,” she said.

Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz have already paused distribution while two Covid-19 vaccine clinics have been canceled in Stanislaus County following the allergic reaction reports.

The delay was a huge blow to California’s vaccine distribution efforts. California currently has the second highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the United States, with Los Angeles being a particular hotspot.

All cases of apparent allergic reactions occurred at San Diego County’s drive-through mass vaccination site at Petco Park. No other providers have reported allergic reactions to vaccines administered from the same batch of doses.

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