The Anna Karenina principle, named for Leo Tolstoy’s famous line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” asserts that any deficiency dooms a practice or project to failure. Boring but true to the Karenina principle, a successful endeavor must take the straight and narrow path, avoiding every possible hitch.
I think this applies well to daily habits — good and bad.
Good habits: Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens. Taking an aspirin a day.
I have a decent diet. My husband and I eat through our weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box of veggies in about five days, and often have to buy more kale at Tri-County Produce. But occasionally my annual blood work shows I’m still low in something or other, so I have to take a calcium pill or multiple vitamins. Then life gets in the way and it falls by the wayside.
I don’t really like the idea of taking pills, so I haven’t done the aspirin thing either. When I asked my doctor, he was noncommittal. He pointed out that many large trials have shown that aspirin has benefits for people who have had a heart attack or stroke, or who have no symptoms but an increased risk of a first heart attack. Outside those groups, the benefits are minimal. You have to weigh it against the possible side effects, such as stomach complaints, ulcers and bleeding.
But now, research out of the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that aspirin reduces the risk of melanoma in women. The study, with lead author medical student Christina Gamba, along with Drs. Jean Tang, Marcia Stefanick and Manisha Desai, is “the largest ever to explore new ways to prevent melanoma.” Results of the article, published in the March issue of the journal Cancer:
» Those who took aspirin decreased their risk of developing melanoma by an average of 21 percent.
» After one year of an aspirin regimen, there was an 11 percent risk reduction in melanoma.
» Between one to four years, there was a 22 percent risk reduction.
» As much as a 30 percent risk reduction was seen at five years and beyond.
The mechanism by which aspirin works isn’t yet understood, but may involve aspirin’s pathway through the body, compared with the pathways used by other anti-inflammatory drugs.
“There’s a lot of excitement about this because aspirin has already been shown to have protective effects on cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer in women,” Tang wrote.
Yet despite reading this article two months ago, I’ve had trouble swallowing this simple good habit. My idiosyncratic bad habit: My mind plays a tape that if I eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and especially dark leafy greens, I don’t need to take supplements even as I age.
But the aspirin study is pretty convincing. While it’s not yet known how much should be taken, or for how long, 75 percent of women in the study were taking regular or extra-strength aspirin, not baby aspirin.
I’m going to do it this time. I’m going to do it every day for three weeks, since that’s how long it takes to establish a good habit. I will take an aspirin a day starting … tomorrow morning. Big boring “wheee.”
— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.