Beauty Begins in the Brain (Part One)

In the search for the magic lotion or potion that will make us more beautiful, I’m here to tell you that the answer lies inside your head.  That’s right –  your brain is the key to improving every facet of your life….Your brain is your essence, and it is the essence of your beauty.  By enhancing  your mind, you can feel more energetic, creative and alive – all of which makes you more beautiful,”

writes Marie Pasinski, M.D., staff neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School faculty member, in her book Beautiful Brain Beautiful You.

The face mirrors the chemical activity going on in the brain and actually produces tiny, involuntary microfacial expressions which reflect the inner thoughts and the corresponding neurochemicals being released.  By changing the inner workings of your mind, you can transform the face you present to the world.  “[T] he beauty we see on the outside is direct reflection of what’s happening on the inside.”

In the book, Dr. Pasinski outlines a seven step program to optimize the beauty/brain connection.  They are:

  • Indulge in the new
  • Rev up your social life
  • Mind your body
  • Go for the glow!
  • The smart diet
  • Make over your mind
  • Beautify your brain rhythms

This part one of a three part series.  Beauty Begins in the Brain Part Two.  Beauty Begins in the Brain Part Three.

Indulge in the New

Dr. Pasinski likens indulging in new experiences to sipping from the fountain of youth.  Many studies have shown that engaging in novel, stimulating activities promotes the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and actually increases the volume of the prefrontal cortex making dementia less likely.  Putting this to work in your everyday life can be as simple as going to a museum, trying out a new recipe, taking a different route to work, listening to a new radio station, staying hooked into current trends such as technology; reading about something new; changing up the places you go to shop, relax, dine and so forth; or meeting new people.

My father and his brother, Uncle Bobby, both in their seventies, have discovered texting.  It is a fun way to keep in touch with everybody for them, but little did they know that they are actually helping their brains.

Dr. Pasinski suggests assuming the role of becoming your brain’s personal trainer.  If you spend all day at a job utilizing your left brain, such as working with numbers or something similarly technical, pursue creative activities on your off hours that will stimulate your right brain such as learning to play a musical instrument, gardening, acting, painting or drawing or joining an improv comedy group.  Conversely, if  you do something artistic or creative all day, seek out activities that will give your left brain a workout like joining an investment club, learning a new language, taking a computer class, taking a cooking class, playing bridge or writing.

Whatever activities you choose to pursue, try to make sure that they are multifaceted and something about which you can get passionate and excited.  As your mind opens, grows, and becomes more joyful, it will show on your face!

Rev Up Your Social Life

Studies consistently show the more social a person is, the the less likely they are to suffer a decline in cognitive skills and even motor skills as they age.  Socializing is also associated with better health and fitness and a sharper, more agile mind.  Both halves of the brain are involved in communication, and the brain is designed to interact with other people.  Because of  microfacial expressions, the involuntary, fleeting muscle movements that reflect thoughts, and mirror neurons, which help us to understand the actions of others and prime us to imitate what we see, interacting with others causes the release of neurochemicals in your own brain.

Interestingly enough, Botox, a neurotoxin used by dermatologists to erase facial lines and wrinkles, blocks the neurotransmitters from acting on the facial muscles limiting these microfacial expressions.  Hence, Botox interferes with the ability to communicate which can make someone look less attractive to others instead of more.

Dr. Pasinski suggests interacting with people from different cultures and generations; trying your hand at public speaking; joining a book club; volunteering or becoming a mentor to stretch and socialize your mind.  She also recommends intentionally surrounding  yourself with positive, supportive and encouraging people and cutting the toxic relationships out of your life whenever possible.  The negativity people exude really becomes viral.  It is called emotional contagion and has been scientifically validated.  Because of this, your brain chemistry is influenced and actually changes depending on the emotions of those with whom you interact

Lastly, Dr. Pasinski suggests revving up the passion in your life by meeting or reconnecting with an existing romantic partner as a sure way to rejuvenate and ignite your brain.  When in love, the brain releases dopamine, a key player in the brain’s reward system. Dopamine has been shown to give a natural high that improves concentration and drive.  Brains in long term love release more oxytocin, a nuerotransmitter and hormone that evokes feelings of bonding and contentment.  She refers to love as “the brain’s favorite elixir.” Sex also causes the release of neurochemicals which are good for the brain and trigger feelings of pleasure and reward. So, have fun!

Mind Your Body

Dr. Pasinski stresses that there are two essential elements to brain health: ensuring optimum blood flow and avoiding chronic inflammation.  Every cell in your body depends on a constant, healthy supply of blood to receive nutrients and to eliminate wastes.   Your brain requires a greater blood flow than any other organ in your body. Chronic inflammation occurs when the immune system does not turn itself off appropriately and is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle habits.  It has been found to play a key role in aging and in many diseases including stroke, poor cognitive function, and Alzheimer’s disease.

There are numerous health conditions which can rob the brain of its vitality and power.  These “brain burglars”, as she calls them, are:  high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, obesity and abdominal fat, and smoking. She advocates taking charge of your health and your brain by finding and working with a doctor with which you are comfortable talking and who takes the time to genuinely listen to your concerns and who is supportive and willing to be actively involved in your health care.  This is a two way street.  Being an honest, informed, participative patient is also an essential ingredient for a successful relationship.

Dr. Pasinski recommends that everyone become familiar with the “Give Me 5 for Stroke!” campaign which uses easy-to-remember words to help identify the five signs of stroke.  She says that stroke is “the most notorious brain beauty thief.” Dr. Pasinski also wants you to “know your numbers”, such as BMI (body mass index), blood pressure, waist circumference, fasting lipid panel (indicates cholesterol levels), and fasting blood sugar levels.