By Dushyant Viswanathan, MD, ABIM, ABOIM, Medical Director of The Columbia Center for Integrative Medicine (CCIM)

March 8, 2013
Published in Your Health magazine

From my perspective as a holistic physician, beauty from the inside out is achieved by optimizing function of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual systems in our lives. Optimizing occurs by systematically removing dysfunctions, and improving functionality in these different aspects. When all four systems are working optimally, people enter a state of “coherent harmony” which manifests with clearly noticeable beauty, happiness, peace of mind, health, and longevity. Beauty, in a sense, is a symptom of such harmony.

We may notice those individuals, who exist in a steady state of harmony, and we can’t help but wonder about their habits, their self-care, and their secret to have that certain “glow” from the inside out that make them seem beautiful. Their beauty is apparent in their speech, their movement, their skin, their attitude, their grace. We know that such beauty is both spiritual and physical at once; no wonder since from the perspective of integrative holistic thinking, soul and body are two aspects of the same phenomenon: the human experience.

So what I want to discuss here are the methods used to help you optimize the four systems mentioned above, which lead to coherent harmony and beauty. Any program of healing should be uniquely tailored to your needs, so please contact me directly to personalize these methods for you.

Firstly, any program aiming to optimize function must emphasize the following:

  1. minimize inflammation
  2. maximize cellular health

We need to minimize the intake of toxins: not smoking, and not eating processed foods are a good way to start. It is advisable to replace processed foods with a plant-based diet as espoused by the Mediterranean / Anti-Inflammatory / Ornish diets. Prepare food at your own home with your hands, with loving intentions, from organic / farmers market / local sources.

If you have chronic inflammation, make sure that you have formal evaluation of your GI (gastrointestinal) function. Depending on results of testing, you may require a detox program to heal your gut or liver; this may require the use of specialized diets. For example, if you have acidic pH and candida in your gut, you would temporarily need an alkaline, anti-fungal diet until the gut is healed. If the gut and immune systems are healthy and toxins are minimized, then metabolism and cellular health improve.

Next, to optimize heart, brain, lung, and vascular function, it is advisable to engage in regular enjoyable exercise and to enhance micronutrient intake. Firstly a word about exercise: the evidence that exercise benefits organ function is considerable. The key thing to remember about exercise is to slowly increase the intensity of the exercise over time. For example, if you walk one mile in 15 minutes today, slowly walk faster every day- walk the mile in 14 minutes tomorrow, in 13 minutes the next day, etc.

Micronutrients are essential in optimizing organ and overall physical health. Different organs need various amounts of micronutrients. For example, the thyroid needs selenium, the heart needs magnesium, the GI tract needs zinc, the liver needs choline, etc. I recommend isotonic delivery systems to maximize micronutrient absorption because I am unconvinced that pills available over the counter at vitamin stores get absorbed into the bloodstream. Besides vitamins, minerals, and cofactors, other important micronutrients include amino acids, omega 3 fatty acids, phytonutrients, and short chain fatty acids. Naturally, a micronutrient-dense diet will help considerably.

In addition to micronutrients, hormone function is important as well. Specifically, function of the thyroid and adrenal glands, and hormones such as leptin, insulin, cholecalciferol (Vitamin D), testosterone, estrogen, DHEA, and progesterone need to be optimized to achieve our beauty goals. Hormone balancing improves blood flow to the skin, reduces wrinkles (specifically compounded estriol), improves metabolic function (specifically Vitamin D and progesterone), and enhances youthful appearance and energy levels.

Ok, so now you are minimizing and removing toxins, lowering inflammation, taking in the right food and micronutrient fuel, have balanced your hormones, and are exercising. Physical optimization is moving in the right direction. Next step is to integrate mental and spiritual systems into the program. The easiest way to do this is with yoga or some martial art tailored to your needs and capabilities, in which mindfulness, concentration, breath, and body are “yoked together” in one activity that can be practiced daily. On a personal note, I cannot emphasize enough how much the practice of yoga and pranayama transformed my life, improving my mental, physical, social, and spiritual well-being. It was amazing to discover how my own breathing patterns could exert control over my heart rate, blood pressure, stress level, anxiety, etc. I think any martial art or tai chi also serves this purpose. We all know those regular practitioners of yoga who have a certain glow to their step- that’s beauty from the inside out.

Also essential for optimization of mental and spiritual systems include the following: feeling connected to community and family, having a sense of purpose in life, having a sense of spiritual connection, addressing past traumas (counseling and journaling are quite helpful) and being compassionate to one’s own emotions.

Emotional optimization is perhaps the most complicated of all since what we are talking about is the deepest, most private space that contains our vulnerabilities and frailties. Isolation, selfishness, fear, insecurity, and unexpressed frustration all weaken our emotional health and are detrimental to our mind, body, and spirit; these take us away from coherence and manifesting our beauty.

Methods to optimize emotional health include the following:

  1. Perform 1 act of kindness daily. This is an amazing method that can improve emotional health immediately.
  2. Perform 1 act of relaxation daily. This can include pleasurable activities, laughter, or anything that promotes joy and peacefulness
  3. Assess what it is in your life that brings you joy. If you discover that you don’t have any activity that brings joy, make addressing this a priority. Human beings need joy the way plants need water.
  4. Minimize toxic relationships
  5. Be compassionate towards your own feelings. Rather than judging them or being too cerebral about them, allow them to be noticed. Communicate with sentences that start with “I feel…”

We all have emotions, and these emotions keep us connected in a truthful way to our lives. Our emotional world is a barometer of overall health. Make yours a priority!

Optimizing the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our lives leads to coherent harmony, a dynamic state of order in which we are in balance with our lives. We can even handle imbalances and stresses well in such a state because we are equipped to deal with what life expects out of us. Our bodies, minds, emotional contours, and soul become equipped to be united together in the act of living life. In coherent harmony, we are happy, at peace, connected, helpful to others, and beautiful to behold.

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