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Botox as a Depression Treatment?

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In 2011 Botox injections were the most popular non-surgical cosmetic procedure chosen by Americans. The procedure’s popularity is largely due to its ability to quickly and cheaply reduce the appearance of wrinkles by blocking communication to facial muscles, thus leaving the face relaxed and smooth. But Botox isn’t just a cosmetic procedure; recent medical uses for Botox include reducing perspiration, taming the muscular symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, treating overactive bladder problems, and even experimental uses in cases of colon cancer. According to several small-scale studies, depression may soon be added to this list.

Recent research conducted on Botox patients indicate facial expressions could have more power over the way we feel than previously believed. It goes without saying that when someone is sad they frown, but now psychologists and cosmetic surgeons believe the logic behind this could apply in reverse. A model termed “facial feedback theory” has been around for centuries, with Charles Darwin being one of the first recorded commentators. It considers the prospect that the body’s actions intensify the perception of emotions. Those who are smiling before being told a joke are more likely to find it funny; and on the flip side, those who frown often perceive stronger feelings of anger or sadness. With this in mind several scientists are turning to Botox’s ability to paralyze muscles associated with negative emotions.

A 2006 study conducted by Dr. Eric Finzi, a dermatologist at the Chevy Chase Cosmetic Center in Maryland, showed the reduction of depression symptoms in nine of ten patients as a result of strategically injecting Botox into their facial muscles. The corrugator, a muscle located between the eyebrows, is responsible for scowling or frowning expressions, and thus was targeted for the injection. Participants in the study mentioned a boost in mood and energy within a week of the injection, but the effects tapered as the Botox wore off.

A more recent pilot study conducted by Dr Michael Lewis at the University of Cardiff had similar findings. His sample included twenty-five patients receiving cosmetic procedures. Thirteen participants received dermal fillers, chemical peels, and other cosmetic treatments; and the other twelve received Botox injections for frown line reduction. According to the data compiled from two week surveys on mood, those with the Botox treatment had a sunnier disposition with lower ratings of irritability and depression than the other thirteen participants who received non-Botox treatments. The questionnaire also indicated that the mood boost was independent of whether participants thought the treatment was aesthetically effective or not, ruling out the possibility that Botox users were just particularly happy with the procedure’s results.

Though the findings are optimistic, many experts warn that even if anti-depressant Botox treatments pan out, it would only be a short-term solution. Dr. David Katz, a frequent medical contributor on Good Morning America, commented, "Botox is not a miracle drug. People should know this is a maintenance therapy, not a cure." Dr Judith Grub, a medical researcher from Holland, has also voiced concern that Botox could actually worsen depression in the long term, stating, “My research shows that paralyzing muscles that help you to express emotion leads to internalizing these feelings that lead to more depression eventually.”

Until more thorough studies with larger samples of participants can be studied, the verdict on Botox’s use as an anti-depressant is still out. But if you’re interested in Botox’s cosmetic uses or other anti-aging treatments, contact us today. Our New Image Specialists representatives will schedule you a free and private consultation at one of our many skincare clinics in your area.

--Dean Anderson

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