Dr. Mehmet Oz, co-author of books like "YOU: The Owner's Manual" and "YOU: Staying Young," has studied at Harvard, Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania. He's an award-winning heart surgeon and is vice chair surgery and professor of cardiac surgery at Columbia University, an Ivy League school. In his practice, he combines mainstream medicine with complimentary techniques, and he educates patients on taking better care of themselves.
Dr. Oz's most recent book, "YOU: Being Beautiful," turns to the subject of beauty. It approaches beauty from the inside as well as from the outside. In this interview with HowStuffWorks, Dr. Oz discusses everything from how financial stress affects beauty to which foods are best for your eyes. Read on to learn his thoughts on why beauty matters and what makes someone beautiful.
Why does beauty matter?
The reason that beauty is important to us is because beauty is all about health. We're hardwired to seek out beauty, and the reason is that before we had blood tests and MRI scans, the best way for us to tell if a person was a good candidate to mate with us and whether they were healthy enough to do so was how beautiful they were. And so it's not some issue of vanity. We're actually always deep in our reptilian brain going to seek out beauty.
All of you out there are beautiful by definition. Why? Because your parents sought each other out because they were looking for beautiful people. And their parents did, too, and each of you answers to this -- all of humanity does, which means that you are beautiful. You are hardwired to have the beauty in you, and all we want to do in "YOU: Being Beautiful" is to get you to unveil the beauty that's already in there. That's our entire goal, and you do that by realizing that deep inside of you there are processes going on that eventually bubble to the surface and are expressed as beauty.
Has the definition of beauty changed?
I think what we perceive of as being attractive day to day has changed. We had voluptuous women being painted by Rubens 200 years ago. Today, of course, we've got Twiggy and really thin models walking up runways looking like coat hangers, but the basics of beauty have not changed. The things we value the most -- the quality and texture of skin -- generally reflects your health.
Of course there are times in our history when that's varied. You know there was the time when having had some type of pockmark meant that you weren't going to get smallpox, and therefore you were safe from further infection, and those skin lesions were seen as beautiful. And there have been times when being heavy was an important characteristic of your body shape because it meant that you were healthy enough to bear kids. But it all comes back to that the same fundamental insight, which is symmetry and the golden ratio of 1.6 to 1. This ratio governs many of the key aspects of what beauty looks like. These are basic realities in nature, because it defines how cells reproduce normally. So all beauty is telling you is that you reproduce normally.
Is beauty based on a natural law?
If you look at a conch shell, the Fibonacci sequence -- the golden ratio -- defines how the conch spirals around. It defines how your face is oriented, even your digits in your fingers. The digit that's right next to your knuckle is 1.6 times as long as the next part of your finger, and then that part of your finger is 1.6 times as long as the very tip of your finger. So we see it over and over again, in growing organisms.
How does stress affect beauty?
Stress is for many of us the beast waiting in the wings, because it's a healthy adaptation to your environment -- you run rapidly away from a saber-tooth tiger chasing you. But chronic stress historically was really only seen in one major condition. That was famine. So it allows us to survive under harsh conditions, but it's not conducive to living a long life with the kind of vitality we want. It's designed to get you through a crisis, and, therefore, when we have chronic stress occurring in modern day life -- because you've got credit card debt or because your relationships aren't going the way you want them to go or because you've got chronic pain or you're depressed -- then these all become factors that slowly stress out the hypothalamic pituitary axis. This is the part of your brain that connects down to your adrenal glands. It allows you to cope with stress but it eventually gets taxed out and you short-circuit. And then you start to slide down the hill, and it's very difficult to go back up again unless you completely reboot yourself.
Does stress have both physical and mental effects?
It is absolutely on both, and we know this actually from rodent studies looking at how rats cope with stress. But it's true for humans in many, many settings. If you look at how people cope with natural disasters or with Sept. 11, over and over again we see that something like Katrina hits and the heart attack rates go up and depression goes up and people age. Even being president of this country, by the way, can measurably age you over the course of your tenure because people are always hammering at you. And we recognize this, but we often don't act on it. Now remember it's not the stress itself. It's your response to stress that's causing the problem. And I want to emphasize that because running away from stress is never the solution. Learning how to cope with it more effectively usually is the way to go.
What's your advice on financial stress?
The most important tool we have found across the board -- and this is true especially in times when you have financial crises, for example -- is that you build support around you, a social support that can catch you. For example, if you have bankruptcy or have had major litigation against you, these things all age you measurably -- some of them up to eight years. But if you have a social support around you to prop you back up again, you can reduce that loss to one year. And so there's a lot you can cope with as long as you've got people around you that you can talk the problem through with.
Money is all about taking control of your destiny. In fact, the biggest stressor of all is not having control. If you have to spend your life trying to deal with someone else's agenda and not yours, then you're going to suffer from more stress, and it's going to show. This is true with any problem that you face in your life. As long as you have control over your decision-making processes, you'll have some stress. But if you have concerns about whether or not you can do anything unless someone else permits you to, that's far more stressful, and that's where many Americans end up. There are other stressors no matter where we are in our lives that continue to pop up. That's why it's not the stress itself: It's your response that defines how well you're coping.
A lot of us seem like we're Gordon Gecko on the outside -- the Wall Street tycoon out to make a fortune for ourselves -- but on the inside most of us are like Fred Flintstone. We have a very simple understanding of money, and I'm not talking about knowing how to invest money. We instinctively are much more adverse to taking risks with our money than we are with making money.
And one great example of this is if you walk into a movie theater and reach into your pocket to pay for tickets and a $20 bill that you had there has fallen out of the bottom of your pocket through a hole. You would just go to your other pocket, get 20 more dollars, and buy the ticket. Not a big deal. But if you buy a ticket and somehow misplace it, you won't buy a new ticket again, usually. That seems paradoxical. But it's the exact same thing. You lost the exact same amount of money, but there's just something instinctual that prevents you from wanting to buy those tickets again because you already did it once.
And that's the example of how we don't always behave in a rational way, and I think one of the biggest misperceptions about money and beauty and health, in general, is that we think of ourselves as inherently rational beings, and I've got news for you: If you have a stroke that knocks out the emotional center of your brain, you can no longer make rational decisions. So we are really not a very rational species, and we're not supposed to be rational. That's not a bad thing. We hold back from acting and what our mind tells us because our gut instinct usually is more accurate.
What are the best foods for our eyes?
There are a bunch of foods that play a huge role here, but carrots are not one of them. If you want to eat food that's good for your eyes, focus on lutein-containing foods, which are green, leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli and are extraordinarily effective for the eyes.
What are the best foods for our skin?
In terms of skin health, there are a whole slew of helpful foods, but I should probably start off by talking about biotin. Biotin is a B vitamin. It's found in eggs, the yolks unfortunately more than the whites. Legumes, avocados, soy beans and nuts, all of these contain this B vitamin biotin that's so important. It's not just for the skin, by the way, but also for our nails and for our hair, and if you don't have enough biotin your hair and your nails become brittle and frail and your skin loses its glow. So B vitamins are critical. Salmon has a product in it, a carotenoid that gives it its pink color. This carotenoid improves your skin's elasticity and then also has DHE omega 3s, which help make your skin and hair look younger and healthier.
Pomegranates help thicken the epidermis, and they prolong the life of fibroblast. These are the cells that make collagen that makes that leather that holds you together a bit more robust. My favorite of all is tomatoes. And the reason is tomatoes have lycopene, and we don't know if it's the lycopene or other factors in the tomatoes, but if you eat tomatoes you actually get sunburned less. And we learned that through a series of studies.
What's your No. 1 beauty tip?
Flossing daily reduces gingivitis and cleans 40 percent more of teeth than brushing. If you don't floss, please save up money for the dental work you will need or the cardiac rehab that might be needed since your heart attack chances are much higher. I also only shampoo my hair when it is dirty, not daily.
What do you personally think makes someone beautiful?
The ability to serve others is the ultimate sign of inner and outer beauty. Giving to others isn't just a one-way transfer -- it affords the receiver the opportunity to pass along the grace they received.
When was the last time you cleaned out your cosmetics? HowStuffWorks talked to an LA-based makeup artist for advice on how often we need to toss it.