YouBeauty Experts’ Top Breakthroughs of 2011

2011 was an important year for advances in all things health and beauty. From collagen-building sound waves to artificial sweetener backlash and even a novel that explores the science of attraction, check out what got the YouBeauty expert team excited this past year.

1Art Imitating Life

Expert: Viren Swami, Ph.D., YouBeauty Attraction Expert

My top find of 2011 has to be Haruki Murakami’s magnum opus, IQ84. Although the novel includes many of the themes that Murakami’s reader will be familiar with, including an attention to detail and a surreal narrative, it is really the story of two people who are searching for each other in a fictionalized 1984 (itself a reference to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four).

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The novel is so fascinating because many of its central themes—love, seduction and sex, family relationships, violence and murder, cults—are the things that so interest me as a psychologist.

MORE: Your perfect match might be just around the corner

2Harnessing Sound Energy to Make You Look Younger

Expert: Arthur W. Perry, M.D., F.A.C.S., YouBeauty Cosmetic Surgery Expert

Since the advent of liposuction nearly 30 years ago, breakthroughs in plastic surgery have been technology-related. This year’s new gizmo harnesses the power of sound to make you look younger. It turns out that sound energy can be intensified, made into a tone even dogs cannot hear, and focused into a tiny pinpoint. The machine is called Ulthera and the result is the generation of heat below the skin.

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The heat causes the skin to shrink and to lay down new collagen, which rejuvenates the face, smoothes the jawline and tightens neck skin. As a bonus, fat is destroyed. (How many of us would object to that?) While some people have outstanding results, most see subtle improvement. Plastic surgeons are just beginning to figure out how to improve the results. Years from now, this new office procedure might just make face, eyelid and brow lifts extinct.

MORE: The biggest “bang for your buck” procedures

3The Legacy of Alexander McQueen

Expert: Aimee Mullins, YouBeauty Identity Expert

An upfront admission: I’m biased about the following subject, but the fact remains that for many people, both those I know and hundreds of thousands I’ve never met, the best and most influential exhibit of the year was Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, presented by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

MORE: Learn about the exhibit and Aimee’s personal connection with McQueen.

4Music For Your Mind

Expert: Art Markman, Ph.D., YouBeauty Psychology Advisor

In psychology research, 2011 gave us some suggestions for how to lift our spirits. Tobias Greitemeyer found that if you listen to music with uplifting lyrics, then it has a host of benefits. You are less likely to react to other people aggressively and can decrease your feelings of hostility toward other people.

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So, after you have had a rough day at the office, a difficult experience with the kids, or a fight with your significant other, pull out some of your favorite music that has hopeful lyrics and help your stress melt away.

MORE: Your Mind on Music

5Lifestyle Medicine

Expert: Jim Perko, C.E.C., A.A.C., YouBeauty Culinary Expert

Recognizing healthy behavior change as medicine is one of the newest and most profound advancements in healthcare. For the culinary world, this is HUGE!  Instead of using food as mere fuel for the body, or entertaining the taste buds with aging fats, sugars, sodium and alcohol, chefs can use their culinary training and skills to mitigate preventable chronic disease.

MORE: Prep, prepare and enjoy food as medicine.

6Living Happier Lives

Expert: Jim Nicolai, M.D., YouBeauty Integrative Health Expert

My 2011 top find is Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book Spontaneous Happiness. So many of us are experiencing stress, are feeling harassed and disconnected, or are running too hard without much purpose. We are chasing our tails, accomplishing a lot, but feeling less joyful about it. We make more and have more and yet we feel less fulfilled.

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Dr. Weil is a genius in taking complex information and making it understandable. Knowing that we all want to be happier, having someone to guide us through that process is both comforting and inspiring. It helps to have someone I trust to navigate me through the maze of confusion surrounding what to do to find emotional balance. This book does exactly that.

As a representative of the integrative medicine that Dr. Weil practices and teaches, I am proud of this book, and will use it as a reference to point people towards what true happiness can be. Guests come from around the world to Miraval Resort and Spa, looking for a place to rest from the pace of life and the stress that it delivers.  As medical director of the Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval, the inspiration I get from Andrew Weil and his work continues to help me offer guidance to those people looking for improved emotional stability and wellbeing.

QUIZ: How Happy Are You? Take Our Happiness Quiz!

7Cutting the Risk For Chronic Disease

Expert: Beth Ricanati M.D., YouBeauty Wellness Advisor

Everyday wellness is becoming just that—everyday! Thanks to the efforts of the First Lady, healthy physical fitness and nutrition have become part of the dialogue of our children’s wellbeing. Schools have jumped on board, and kids everywhere are learning the benefits of movement. And the research just continues to back this up!

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In fact, in a supplement published this month in the British Journal of Cancer, researchers reviewed the literature for lifestyle and cancer: a whopping one third of cancers are caused by the four common lifestyle factors that you can control— tobacco, alcohol, diet and obesity. We have the power to effect our risk of chronic disease. May 2012 be the year that you lower that risk! Put on a pair of sneakers, grab another handful of fruit, take a deep breath and celebrate your health.

QUIZ: How “pretty” is your diet?

8Relationships Help Us Regulate Pain

Expert: David Sbarra, Ph.D., YouBeauty Relationship Expert

2011 was a terrific year for relationship science! Our of all the great studies, I chose a brain imaging study as my favorite piece of relationship science this year. This study, conducted by Naomi Eisenberger and colleagues at UCLA, demonstrated that viewing an attachment figure during the threat of pain (being burned!) reduced the subjective experience of pain and led to increased activity in a brain region associated with safety signaling.

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Greater activity in this brain region—the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—was associated with reduced pain ratings and less activity in pain-related regions of the brain. It is this detail that I find so exciting: Merely viewing a picture of our partners can activate the safety signals in our brains, which, in turn, has the potential to down-regulate how we experience pain. Next time I am about to be burned, I’ll be sure to think about my wife!

QUIZ: What drives your relationships?

9Better Gyms For Your Body

Expert: Tracy Hafen, YouBeauty Fitness Expert

More gyms and training studios are looking like monkey exhibits, complete with balls, trapezes, ladders, ropes, platforms, and bars.  And who wouldn’t rather go to the zoo or circus than the gym? This trend in what’s called “functional fitness” is not new, but it continues to grow and is becoming more mainstream…to everyone’s benefit.

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A functional approach to fitness training involves going back to the basic movement skills people use in everyday life and recreation—skills such as running, jumping, climbing, crawling, lunging, pushing, pulling, and reacting to changing environments.

These skills are best developed using simple, often inexpensive pieces of equipment that allow the body to move in multiple directions at once and require it to support its movements by using stabilizing muscles. This is not the case with most heavy, stationary exercise machines that line the walls and floors of some gyms. So if you’re looking to join a gym or visit a training studio this year, or even to outfit an exercise room for your home, go for the space that looks like a zoo, a circus, or playground rather than a heavy equipment assembly line.

MORE: Tracy’s picks for at-home fitness equipment

10Hope for Treating Alzheimer’s

Expert: Jennifer Roizen, Ph.D., YouBeauty Research Advisor

For 2011, I’d like to shine the spotlight on the first treatment designed for a member of a class of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These ailments are practically untreatable and fatal. They are also prevalent. For example, it’s estimated that around one out of six women will have Alzheimer’s over their lifetimes. Worse still, scientists don’t know the exact causes of these illnesses.

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So, it’s a pretty big deal that scientists have been able to figure out how to treat even one of these disorders. The approval of this drug heralds dramatic improvements in our understanding of these illnesses. While the new drug only works for one illness, it provides a good starting point for the design of other treatments, and should bring hope to all of those who suffer from diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Want to know more about the specific science?

The hallmark of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and this whole class of disorders is the accumulation of a particular type of misfolded protein*, called an amyloid plaque. This month, the drug Tafamidis was approved in Europe to treat a rare amyloid syndrome.** In this syndrome, the relevant protein works when four copies of the protein are tied together. These copies have to disconnect before they can form the plaque. The drug is designed to prevent the four copies of the protein from separating. This is the first amyloid disease where scientists have been able to deter misfolding of a specific protein. It is the culmination of a quarter century of work.

MORE: Boost your brain with exercise

*Misfolded protein : A protein is like a railroad track in the following way. Imagine a track that is bent back on itself—the misshaped track can’t be used to guide a train because the train will get derailed. The track’s function relies on its 3D shape. The same goes for a protein.  Proteins usually exert their effect by relying on its specific three-dimensional shape, like train tracks.  A misfolded protein is one that no longer retains its functional three-dimensional structure.

**Amyloid disorder: The markers of these syndromes are plaques made of misfolded proteins called amyloid fibers—very, very hard intermeshed threads spread out in your brain (or another organ) like cooked spaghetti that has been left to dry.

11Not-So-Sweet Sweeteners

Expert: Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., YouBeauty Nutrition Advisor

2011 was a big year for the pink, blue, and yellow. It was the year we realized that artificial sweeteners were really not our golden tickets to getting our sweet taste without the not-so-sweet consequences. We found out that the little packets that we have loved and spent billions on over the years could not only hinder our weight loss goals but could actually (ironically) cause us to gain weight.

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You may have been shocked by these headlines and if you didn’t believe them, there were plenty of studies to prove it. A study in the journal Diabetes Care found that daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36 percent greater relative risk of developing metabolic syndrome (risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes) and a 67 percent greater relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption.

Another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, in one group of study participants, consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was associated with type 2 diabetes. The findings are mimicked in rat studies as well. Looks like 2012 is the year for truth. Time to cut the sweet completely, not just a little bit. Now it’s time to learn from science and be even better in the next 12 months!

MORE: Guide to Sweeteners

12Concussion Management System for Athletes

Expert: Michael Roizen, M.D., YouBeauty Founder

The number two cause (after car accidents) for concussions is high contact sports such as football, boxing, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling, rugby, and ice hockey. These sports pose a high risk of a closed head injury, even when protective headgear is used. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that almost four million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur each year—and they exact a heavy toll.

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There are about 235,000 hospitalizations and 50,000 deaths annually due to concussions. Estimates suggest that up to 40 percent of football players experience a concussion annually, with the majority of these sports brain injuries going unreported, unrecognized, and unmanaged. You don’t have to be “knocked out” to have a concussion. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of concussions result in loss of consciousness.

Head injuries are now such a major medical concern in sports that special patient management tools have been developed. Used by athletes, they instantly detect brain injuries at the moment of contact, and provide patient-specific guidance about when athletes can return to play without risk of further harm. The novel Concussion Management System includes a special assessment tool that is used to establish an athlete’s baseline cognitive and motor skills at the beginning of his or her athletic season. This is the first tool that objectively and accurately assesses cognitive and motor function simultaneously. The special instrumented mouthguard with Bluetooth technology allows the team doctor and athletic trainer to use important information to manage and gauge the athlete’s eventual safe return to physical activity.

QUIZ: How much physical activity do you get?