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Skin and the Brain: Uncovering New Links

By: Claudia C. Aguirre and Annet King
Posted: September 28, 2012, from the October 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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The rise of modern allopathic medicine has led to a tendency to segment and compartmentalize the body—and especially the mind—as if they are all disparate parts of a machine. This mechanistic view has been important and, in fact, necessary in order to classify diseases and establish research protocols in the modern sense. But what’s intriguing from a scientific perspective these days is that some of the long-dismissed beliefs about how the body and mind work together now bear closer re-examination.

In today’s era of medical specialization, it is easy to forget the beliefs of ancient healing traditions: All of the aspects of the body interact, although the current understanding of this interaction remains incomplete. For instance, in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the doctor would always look at the patient’s tongue, reading its coating, color and texture. This holistic approach, including reading the skin for cues to internal health, is now inviting more serious consideration from even conventional Western medicine.

This may be the case in the area that is the top priority of every skin care professional: anti-aging. For instance, neurobiologist Douglas Fields, PhD, author of the book The Other Brain (Simon & Schuster, 2009), expresses the opinion that skin aging is not simply a cosmetic condition—it’s a highly informative marker of internal aging and health, including brain health.

Chronic inflammation caused by immune system chemicals affects the aging process of the skin, especially in response to UV damage, and the aging brain, which loses plasticity in response to a decline in the biological processes of lipid synthesis, cholesterol synthesis and fatty acid synthesis. Fields states in a recent article in The Huffington Post, “Preventing premature aging of the brain may not be as easy as preventing premature aging of skin with sunscreen, but a careful look at your skin could tell you how well you are doing below the surface.”


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