Improving appearance isn’t just a matter of vanity. It’s also about emotional well-being: when people look their best, they feel better about themselves. They’re happier and smile more—and you know what they say: when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you. This month, we’ve compiled information about some research findings and treatments that improve body and spirit.

noninvasive torso fix
We’ve heard it before: you can’t spot reduce with diet and exercise. That means the shape of our saddlebag thighs will still be with us, even if we exercise like demons every day (although they might get smaller, thankfully). Yet liposuction might be too extreme for some, so what other options are out there? Luckily, the cosmetic surgery industry has come up with increasingly less invasive ways to accomplish spot fat reduction. First there was a procedure to treat fat cells by freezing them so they die. Now there is an even better way, according to Dr. Richard Moore, medical director of The Lifestyle Center. Vanquish ME is a procedure that reduces fat deposits with heat that is reportedly very comfortable. The high-frequency energy field penetrates into the fat layer without touching the skin.

“We are very happy with this procedure because we can treat the torso circumferentially, including the front of the abdomen, sides of flanks, lower or upper back, and inner and outer thighs,” Moore says. “An added advantage is that it causes noticeable skin tightening, something not possible with methods that remove fat by freezing. This is the industry’s largest spot-size treatment, covering the abdomen from flank to flank, a full upper back or full thighs.” Moore says treatment usually takes about an hour, but can last up to two hours for multiple areas. He says even one Vanquish treatment will show results, and reports that a series of four treatments achieves the look clients want. Fat loss is permanent because the cells are destroyed and reabsorbed by the body. There is no anesthesia required and no downtime. Patients also saw improvement in the appearance of cellulite. Moore combines Vanquish with a BodyFX treatment for additional fat destruction, without charging for the latter.

the feet: form & function
Let’s face it: bunions are not pretty. That big toe bump we got from our parents (or years of high heels) deforms our feet, totally defeating the idea of kicky summer sandals. We put off having them done because of the downtime, but the truth is, the longer we wait and the older we get, the more downtime we’ll need. Dr. Michael Horwitz of Feet for Life Podiatry Centers and Clean Spa, says bunions should be removed when it will do the most good. “You can get the bump fixed before you have bad pain, and by doing so, head off needing a joint replacement. It’s an investment for the long-term.” He urges people not to wait until the joint deteriorates, saying 90 percent of bunions can be fixed with a simple osteotomy. This involves cutting the bone, moving it over, and anchoring it with a temporary screw.

The screw is the key to easier surgeries and long-term outcomes, says Horwitz. “Metallosis, the deposit and build-up of metal debris in the soft tissues of the body, is becoming a real problem,” says Horwitz. “Over time, implanted metal can deteriorate. Many people prefer to avoid having metal left in their bodies if they can help it. Also, bone is meant to bend, which is pretty hard to do with rigid metal. I was instrumental in the development of this removable bunion screw, which gets taken back out through a tiny incision about three months after the surgery.”

Another critical factor in bunion surgery is the surgeon, Horwitz emphasizes. Pick one who performs this procedure regularly, not just on an occasional basis.

boost metabolism, reduce inflammation
Exercise and aesthetic procedures work to sculpt the body on the outside, but you can’t overestimate the importance of building a better body from the inside. Stoking metabolism is a complex mechanism that boils down to preventing inflammation and maintaining gut health, says Afua Bromley of Acupuncture St. Louis and Wellness Center. She says any foods that don’t cause inflammation are helpful.

“The most inflammatory foods are simple sugars and processed foods,” she says. “Better choices are high in soluble fiber, like whole grains, brown rice, quinoa, millet, steel-cut oats and beans. Soluble fiber makes the body work to digest it, which keeps blood sugar from fluctuating and helps boost metabolism.”

Other foods she recommends for hearty metabolism include berries, particularly blueberries and raspberries; nuts, like almonds that are nutrition-dense; and spices. She says black and cayenne peppers and red pepper flakes all boost metabolic rate, as do spicy foods like jalapeños. Green and oolong teas have been shown in studies to increase metabolism for up to two hours after consumption. “Fermented foods are good for the gut and decrease inflammation, which has a positive effect on metabolism. These include things like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and tempeh, as well as any kind of pickled vegetable.” Bromley especially likes kombucha, a fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drink available at Whole Foods and Schnucks in the refrigerated juice section.

Speaking of liquids, she warns it is very important to stay hydrated. Even slight dehydration slows the metabolic rate. Other things that help even-out metabolism include lean meats, eggs, and healthy fats like nuts, avocado, and olive and coconut oils. The iron content of dark, leafy green vegetables and beans also keeps metabolism ramped up.

Says Bromley: “Forty seems to be the magic age when metabolism starts to slow, making it harder to lose weight and maintain muscle mass. It’s doubly important then to eat strategically and keep exercising.”

digital dentistry
When it comes to educating patients, Dr. Nicole Niewdach of Des Peres Smiles says you can’t beat good technology. She has two monitors in exam rooms so she and the patient each can see what she is pointing out. X-rays are hard for patients to read, she says, but intraoral pictures are much more explanatory. With their sharp, digitally produced images, intraoral cameras can display on the screen the area the doctor is talking about for hygiene instruction, treatment planning and what is expected of the patient. She can show fracture lines in a tooth and other defects while explaining the rationale for a particular treatment recommendation and the particulars of home-care for maintaining long-term dental health.

Says Niewdach: “There is still a place for X-rays, which, since they are digital, have a much lower radiation dose, are ready immediately and can be emailed to specialists for work beyond the scope of the dentist. Some larger practices now have 3-D software that can create digital impressions for making crowns, doing away with the traditional manual impressions, and speeding up the process of having a crown made.”

Digital advances also have improved communications with dental offices. Patients can go online from their computers or phones to request dental appointments.

new tool for turkey neck
One of the first signs of aging is a sagging neck, says Dr. Joseph Muccini of MidAmerica Skin Health & Vitality Center. Fixing it early can buy us time before any other work has to be done.

PrecisionTx is a thin laser inserted through three small holes, one under the chin and one behind each ear, using only a local anesthetic. It melts the fat and tightens the skin. This one-time minimally invasive treatment is done in-office, and the results of the treatment in the lower face and neck continue to improve over time. Heat-stimulated collagen production leads to skin thickening and tissue retraction. According to a recent study, there was an average 29 percent increased skin thickness three months post treatment. After the one-hour procedure, patients wear a compression sling around the chin and jaw for three days to get the neck “used to its new neighborhood,” explans Muccini.

Other complementary treatments that enhance the results include adjustments with filler and Botox around the mouth to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, and intense pulsed light (IPL) to lighten dark spots in the area. However, Muccini reminds us: “You have to be committed to protecting your investment and your long-term skin health by wearing sunscreen consistently and by following a good skin care regimen at home.”

the cold treatment
Have you ever heard runners talk about sitting in an ice-water bath to ease sore muscles after a strenuous workout? They are right, and now there is something even better than ice water: liquid nitrogen gas.

Palm Health, which opened May 8 in Ladue, is a multispecialty integrated medical practice that offers alternative therapies, including Cryotherapy. Dr. Lauren Munsch-Dal Farra explains the thinking behind it. “Historically, people found that rolling in snow and ice baths invigorated the body and decreased muscle pain and swelling. This machine surrounds the body with dry liquid nitrogen gas at a temperature of -150 to -250 F. The person stands in a tank for 1 to 3 minutes with the head sticking out and wearing minimal clothing: underwear, gloves and socks. Clients get the physiologic reaction to cold without negative effects on the tissue.”

Whole body cryotherapy was originally developed in Japan in 1978 by Dr. Toshiro Yamauchi for treating rheumatoid arthritis. He found he could significantly reduce his patients’ soreness and pain his during manipulation of their joints, because the rapid decrease of temperature of the outer layer of skin led to the immediate release of endorphins, resulting in less sensitivity to pain.

Munsch-Dal Farra explains that the extreme cold triggers a release of endorphins with a pain-relieving effect that can be long-lasting. One session can decrease the physiologic signs of inflammation for up to three weeks, she says. Some patients with painful arthritis or joint injuries may take two sessions a day for a week, then taper to a few sessions per week. It has proven to be beneficial for inflammatory rheumatic diseases, she says, as well as helping depression. They plan to combine cryotherapy with physical therapy, because after a cryotherapy session, range of motion is improved and physical therapy exercises can be more effective.

On the beauty side, she says, studies have also indicated increased collagen production with cryotherapy, resulting in skin tightening and rejuvenation, as well as metabolism increases. “Clients report increased energy and that they are more upbeat and relaxed,” Munsch-Dal Farra says. “Sleep quality improves, and inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis have shown improvement as well.”

can sunscreen boost vitamin D?
We protect our skin with sunscreens to head off the signs of sun-related aging and skin cancer. But that also blocks the sun benefits of vitamin D, which include help in absorbing calcium and protection from certain cancers. It’s a trade-off we just have to accept—but maybe not anymore. Sun exposure is the major source of vitamin D for humans. The lack of it is a health problem affecting 40 percent of children and 60 percent of adults. Now, there is a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen that lets in vitamin D: Solar D. Currently available in Australia, the skin cancer capital of the world, Solar D has been approved for introduction in the U.S. this summer.

Dr. Ian Maher, a SLUCare dermatologist, says the product was developed by a group of scientists at Boston University. While letting in the vitamin D, the sunscreen filters out 97 percent of the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that cause skin cancer. Normal SPF 30 sunscreen, when applied properly, blocks out nearly 98 percent of vitamin D. This new preparation contains chemicals that absorb solar radiation but allow up to 50 percent more production of vitamin D.

“In general, dermatologists still recommend a vitamin D supplement because it is so important to our health; and for dark-skinned individuals, who make very little vitamin D, a supplement is always a good idea; we will use this product when it comes out,” says Maher.

He wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t also remind us to use whatever sunblock we choose as directed, every time we go outside. We also should reapply it every two hours, and avoid tanning beds. We will look younger longer and prevent skin cancer, which can be fatal.

say goodbye to BMI?
Every fitness quiz we take asks for our BMI (body mass index), which is the person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his/her height in meters. The only two things it uses are your height and your weight. The problem is that BMI cannot tell fat from muscle, so a muscular athlete like Michael Jordan, with 7 percent body fat, would come up obese by BMI standards. And yet your fitness scores and sometimes health insurance premiums may be based on it. Patrick McKee, the fitness manager for the Jewish Community Center, says BMI is mostly important for babies and toddlers to make sure they are adding weight at the rate they should be.

“BMI is a screening tool,” he says. “If the results surprise you, look deeper. There are two kinds of fat: subcutaneous (under the skin) and visceral (around the organs). People with high subcutaneous fat usually have visceral fat, but not always. And genetics play a role.”

Visceral fat is what worries doctors. Even relatively thin people with high visceral fat can be at greater risk for serious health issues. McKee then tells us more bad news: “If we aren’t active as adolescents, we can actually add more fat cells, and these cells never go away; they just expand and contract. Life-long monitoring will let us know how we are really doing with exercise and food intake. By relying only on BMI or body size, we may have an unrealistic idea of our overall health.” He recommends periodically having body fat tested. A healthy male should be between 12 and 18 percent. Women get a little more: 18 to 25 percent.

what’s your sleep quality?
If we don’t get quality sleep, our health and our looks suffer. Whitney Linsenmeyer, an instructor in nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, says getting enough sleep helps us maintain an appropriate weight and is part of our beauty arsenal. “There is a growing body of research demonstrating that lack of sleep leads to obesity,” she notes.

One way we can foster good sleep is by the foods we eat and when we eat them. The timing of eating is mostly important, she says, if we suffer from acid reflux. Eating within two hours of bed, especially spicy foods, and then lying down, can trigger it. A high-fat meal late in the day also can be hard to digest and can interrupt sleep. And finally, for people sensitive to caffeine, she recommends stopping coffee, caffeinated tea, sodas and even chocolate eight hours before bed. We often think alcohol is helpful because it makes us drowsy, but it is notorious for interrupting sleep and causing nighttime wakefulness. Any liquids within an hour of bed can trigger nocturnal trips to the bathroom, another annoying sleep interrupter.

On the flip side, Linsenmeyer says there are many foods known to promote sleep. Fish, particularly salmon, halibut and tuna, are high in vitamin B6 and make melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. Whole grains also help sleep. Low-fat dairy products like plain yogurt or milk have tryptophan, another sleep hormone. Leafy greens and bananas are high in magnesium and vitamin B6, as well. Herbal teas that promote sleep (don’t forget the one-hour rule for bathroom trips) include decaf green tea, chamomile, valerian and lavender. Just remember that when we sleep better, our eyes are brighter, our skin looks better, and we feel more like exercising and keeping our bodies in good shape.

regenerating hair
Amazing how sometimes our body has just what we need to look and feel better. But we might have to help it a little. That’s how it is with platelet-rich plasma (PRP). The Ozzie Smith IMAC Regeneration Center, which started in Paducah, Kentucky, 18 years ago, opens a new location in St. Louis this month. Doug Bouldin, a family nurse practitioner, explains that the center is an integrated practice with chiropractic, physical therapy and traditional medicine. The use of PRP is part of an area called regenerative medicine that he says has really taken off in the last five years. “PRP is useful for a lot of things. It’s a natural product from a person’s body. We don’t manipulate or change the cells; we just concentrate them. For any procedure involving PRP, we do a simple blood draw, process it in our on-site lab and inject the concentrated platelets into the skin for a dermal filler, into a joint to decrease inflammation, or into the scalp to regenerate hair.”

For the hair procedure, he does a nerve block in the scalp where the hair has thinned or been lost. Using a special tool called a pin needle, he preps the dermal layer for the PRP by breaking up the oil in the scalp to let the follicles work. “PRP helps break the bond of byproducts like DHT from testosterone to allow the hair follicle to resume normal phases of growth. Within 30 days, most clients see growth of fine hair that gradually thickens.”

Men typically need two or three treatments, women one or two treatments, three months apart. It is much less expensive and traumatic than hair transplants. Bouldin says they’ve had success with thinning eyebrows, as well. The overall treatment time is about an hour. Clients may have a sunburn-like appearance for a few days.