Beauty Begins in the Brain (Part Three)

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

I covered the first five categories in a previous blogs, Beauty Begins in the Brain (Part One) and Beauty Begins in the Brain (Part Two) Here, I will cover the final two categories.

Make Over Your Mind

“In the same way that your physical strength and flexibility improve with regular exercise, thinking optimistic thoughts on a regular basis strengthens and reinforces healthy mental pathways.  Making over your mind will alleviate stress, improve your mood, and protect you from memory loss, which allows your intellect and creativity to blossom and transforms your appearance. Instead of looking frazzled, overwhelmed, and depressed, you will experience an inner calm and joy that others will notice.”

Dr. Pasinski advises going from practicing “mindlessness”, the auto-pilot existence where one has a busy mind and is not entirely present, to practicing mindfulness. She defines mindfulness as being aware of what we are thinking which not only makes us mentally sharper, but also determines how we feel.  Learning how to minimize stress by practicing relaxation techniques is an essential first step.

Stress ages our cells and is a cause of disease.  Telomeres are at the the end of cells and protect the chromosomes inside the cell from becoming unraveled or frayed. Hence, the shorter the tolomere the faster the cell is aging.  Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn won a Nobel prize showing that stress shortens these telomeres and accelerates the aging of cells.

Stress also causes cortisol, the stress hormone, to be released in the brain.  In animal studies, cortisol has actually been shown to kill neurons in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center.  Animals under chronic stress have smaller hippocampi.  This is believed to hold true for humans also.

Stress shows on your skin.  The skin has an especially close relationship with the mind. So much so, that there is even a subspecialty of dermatology called psychodermatology focusing on this connection.

Dr. Pasinski recommends learning a practice developed by Dr. Herbert Benson called The Relaxation Response, which is similar to meditation.  It consists of two, simple steps:

  1. Select a word, sound, prayer, or thought that you find soothing or joyous. Repeat that word, sound prayer, or thought and focus  your mind in the moment.
  2. When other, everyday thoughts intrude, let them go and concentrate once again on step one.

The next step in becoming mindful suggested by Dr. Pasinski is to come fully into your physical senses.  All of our experience in this world is the interpretation of information delivered to our brain through our physical senses. When this channel of information is not clear or is ignored, it can result in mental fogginess.  Having a heightened awareness of the sensory information coming into the brain forces a person to be focused on the present moment. This will result in a stronger connection to the world and people around you and a greater sense of calm and peace.

When making over your brain, it is essential to give your thoughts a make over.  “The brain you have at this moment is a product of the thoughts streaming through your mind and the experiences you’ve had throughout your life. And because we are creatures of habit, we get used to thinking and using our mind the same way.  The way we use our brain is the way we’ve learned to use our brain.”

These unconscious thoughts, the constant, inner chatter, determines how we feel and behave.  This creates our mood and our ability to cope with life events and the accompanying stress.  “We can rewire our brains and reduce our stress by replacing irrational thoughts with realistic, positive beliefs.”  This can be done by consistently recognizing and challenging automatic negative thoughts (ANTS), and replacing them with rational, positive thoughts and beliefs.

Physical movement, laughing, music, poetry, pets, getting out in nature, yoga, having a massage, volunteering, and socializing can also enhance your mind set positively.

Beautify Your Brain Rhythms

“…[R]egulating  your brain rhythms can profoundly improve your mental clarity, well being, and appearance.”  This involves balancing our circadian rhythms, the twenty-four-hour tempo and pulse that determines our sleep/wake cycles, because these determine when hormones are secreted that regulate cellular activity in the body.  Even minor disturbances in these brain rhythms can impair the ability to function properly and make one more susceptible to disease.

Adequate sleep is absolutely essential here.  Cells increase protein production during sleep. Skin cells even regenerate faster when we sleep. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has the effect of cognitive impairment similar to the effects of alcohol consumption.  When the brain is sleep deprived, all facets of cognitive functioning become impaired including concentration, memory and judgement.  Lack of sleep slows down our speed of mental processing, slows our reflexes and sets the stage for countless medical problems leading to poor cognitive function not to mention that it does not make you look your best.

The actual amount of sleep needed varies per individual and should be gauged by how a person feels.  It is usually somewhere between seven and nine hours.  Naps are a great way to recharge the brain during the day.  Power naps, under twenty minutes have been shown to increase alertness, energy and motor performance.  Longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity.

Getting enough light during the day and limiting exposure to artificial light at night is also necessary to keep the circadian rhythms optimal.

 

 

Rethinking Red Wine

We’ve been told for some years now that red wine, in moderation, because of the ingredient resveratrol, has heart benefits and may even extend a healthy life. This information allowed people to have a glass of red wine (or two or three) feeling as if they were doing something good for themselves.  Not so fast.

The researcher, Dr. Dipak K. Das, who conducted the research, culminating in 2007 at The University of Connecticut, that had all the nightly news programs and medical journals proclaiming the health benefits of red wine, has been found guilty of 145 acts of data fabrication.

Turns out that an anonymous allegation of “research irregularities” led to a three year internal  investigation of Dr. Das’ lab which resulted in  a 60,000 page report concluding the falsification of data.

In an article published by CBS news on their website, Red wine no fountain of youth after all?,  Dr. Richard A. Miller, professor of pathology at the University of Michigan, told CBS News of red wine, “If it is good for you, it’s almost certainly not because of the resveratrol. People who bought the story for the last 10 years have been fooled.”

Dr. Marie Pasinski,  staff neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and faculty member of Harvard Medical School, says, in her book Beautiful Brain Beautiful You,  that the studies supporting the claim that red wine is good for your heart and brain were “observational” having been conducted through self-reported questionnaires which may have been severely flawed.  She concluded this before and separate from the accounts of fabrication noted above.  About the resveratol studies, she says “Although studies did show mice that were given hefty doses of resveratrol were healthier and lived longer, an article in the New York Times pointed out that the average 150-pound person would need to drink 750 to 1,500 bottles of red wine a day in order to get the equivalent beneficial dose!”

She concludes that drinking alcohol – even in moderation, is unhealthy.  Alcohol is a known neurotoxin.  In excess, alcohol causes damage throughout the nervous system and kills brain cells, in particular, in important memory areas.  Alcohol may be even more damaging in the developing brains of teenagers who tend binge drink. I sure killed a few brain cells in my college days.

She points out that, for women, even low to moderate alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the breast, liver, mouth, throat, and esophagus.  She states that alcohol is not part of a brain smart diet.  Period.  “Alcohol is not good for us, even in small amounts.”

Beauty Begins in the Brain (Part Two)

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

I covered the first three categories in a previous blog, here, I will cover the next two  and the remaining in a subsequent blog.

Go for the Glow!

When you move your body and the blood starts pumping, it is not just the body that glows. The brain is also enjoying and receiving the benefits of the increased blood flow.  This causes the release of growth factors that promote the birth of new brain cells and create stronger neural connections.  She tells us that Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist, refers to the growth factors released during exercise as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain.  Even a single session of exercise has been shown to improve mental processes.

Research has shown that moving your body makes your brain stronger, healthier, and more vibrant.  Aerobic exercise improves reaction time, concentration and memory as well as mood and reduces anxiety.  “Aerobic activity generates a compound called ‘brain derived neurotrophic factor’ (BDNF) which enhances ‘synaptic plasticity’ or the ability of neurons to talk to one another. …BDNF not only promotes the birth of new neurons, it also supports the survival of existing neurons.” Physical activity also boosts immune function, decreases inflammation, encourages the growth of new blood cells in the brain and body, and protects you from the “brain burglars.”

The younger your cells are, the younger you will look.  Exercise makes the individual cells more youthful which, in turn, makes you look younger from the inside out.  Wrinkles are a reflection of what is happening inside the cells.

For people who do not exercise and are most likely not going to or “newbies” as she calls them, Dr. Pasinski advises living more dynamically and building more activity into the daily life by taking the stairs, parking further away, walking more whenever possible and doing simple things to move more like dancing, jumping rope, or playing with the kids. For gonnabes, those who tend to exercise sporadically, she advises “playing-out” instead of working out by finding something fun that is enjoyable and doing it with some regularity.  She recommends five hours a week of moderate activity or two and a half hours of high intensity activity per week.  This can be broken up into ten minute intervals throughout the week if necessary. She says that “making time for physical activities is just as important as brushing  your teeth, eating, and showering.”

For the “trainiacs”, those of us who love to exercise, Dr. Painski advises cross training with a diverse mix of activities as opposed to doing the same exercise routine week after week to get the most benefit for your brain and body.  Varying the intensity within a workout, interval training, will produce the most benefits.  If you are a traniac with a competitive spirit, join formal teams and competitions. If a trainiac is so inclined, do something thrilling just for the adrenaline rush like climbing a mountain – with the proper safety gear and, of course, wearing a helmet when recommended!

For newbies, gonnabes and trianiacs alike stretching and staying flexible is essential for maintaining the body’s ability to move with ease and fluidity.  Yoga, pilates, or just daily stretching exercises will keep muscles from shortening and tightening.

The Smart Diet

There is no question that what  you put in your mouth directly affects how your brain operates and how you look and feel.  Dr. Pasinski says “don’t diet, live it!”  She encourages “mindful” eating replacing the negative thoughts about food and body image with positive, self affirming ones.  Change your relationship with food so that you are eating to nourish your body and soul. To do this, she advises to: get fresh food, prepare food with love, create a beautiful eating ambiance, share with friends and family and be grateful.

Dr. Pasinski recommends a brain smart diet consisting of smart carbs (vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains), phytonutrients (found in plants), a colorful array of foods, organic foods, smart fats (unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fish) with lots of fish and plant protein while limiting dairy, poultry and eggs and saving red meat and sweets for special occasions.  She encourages giving up all soda and avoiding trans fat at all costs.

Dr. Pasinski also advises us to “spice it up!”  Many studies show that spices and herbs are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants. Circumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has been shown to prevent new Alzheimer’s plaques from forming and actually clear existing plaque in mice. But, go easy on the salt.

She advises us to ingest caffeine based on how it effects you personally.  Some recent studies have shown that it may be good for your brain.  Green tea has been shown to have many brain benefits and is low in caffeine.

Alcohol is a known neurotoxin. She believes it not to good for your brain even in small amounts, and says that “none is best”.

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.