Can Botox Treat Depression?

Good old dear old botox…

Since the Doctors Carruthers accidentally discovered that botox can reduce wrinkles on the face all those years ago ( indeed aesthetic botox only recently celebrated it’s 20th birthday in style!), the applications of botox have gone from strength to strength. In recent years, we have started using botox for conditions as differing as underarm sweating, migraines and facial flushing, but the latest fabulous advancement in the wierd and wonderful world of botox, is the possibility that we may well be able to use it to prevent and indeed cure depression!!

I had heard rumours on the American grapevine about this for quite a while, and had treated them with a good dose of scepticism. On the flip side, using my knowledge of anatomy and physiology of the face and body, as well as an abundance common sense, something at the back of my mind kept saying : “Why couldn’t that work?!”.

You can imagine my excitement therefore, when I saw advertised as one of the lectures at a recent BACD conference (BRITISH ASSOCIATION OF COSMETIC DOCTORS): “Can botox alter mood?”. With great excitement I practically ran to that lecture , and I certainly was not disappointed!

A psychologist, working at the University of Cambridge, has been conducting studies to prove whether botox can elevate mood, and therefore become a very useful tool in combating the difficult and at times debilitating illness of clinical depression. At the BACD conference, he presented his findings of a recent study, and very excitedly announced that this study proved that this may well be possible. In their study, level of mood was assessed in many patients  taken from a cross section of patients who had had cosmetic treatments in the last year. Those who had had a botox treatment to the frown lines, were found to be much happier than those who had had other treatments such as lip enhnacement. In another study, several subjects were asked to immerse one of their arms into a bucket of icy water. Half of the subjects were asked to frown, and half not to frown and those who were not frowning lasted much much longer!! More studies are on their way, but it all looks very promising. Botox can improve mood and tolerance to pain, and these are closely related!

So how can botox cure depression? Well there is a simple answer. We all know the old theory  that if you are feeling down and you watch a good comedy, or simply just force yourself to smile even the falsest of smiles, somehow you feel better, right!? The answer for it is that there is a “feedback loop” from our facial muscles to the brain, and the brain releases hormones and messages as a result of our facial expressions. For example: you are walking through a tropical rainforrest and a dangerous snake suddenly jumps out. The natural instinct of the facial muscles is to pull a “frightened face”, and this “feedback loop” tells the brain DANGER, and the brain kicks in and we suddenly feel very frightened!

If we accept that depressed individuals smile less  and generally frown a lot, by relaxing the frown muscles with botox, we stop those individuals from frowning, and over time that “feedback loop” takes care of the rest.

Why was our psychologist so excited? Well one of the reasons is because anti-depressants such as Prozac have so many side-effects, and botox doesn’t. Another , prozac you take every day, botox every 3 months…

So great news for all of us,   as studies show that all of us get a little depression at some point in our lives and I have to conclude that this may explain in part why more and more patients are turning to botox during the credit crunch, and they are all happy!

“Don’t worry be happy!”— Maybe a new slogan for allergan, the makers of botox, or have I heard that somewhere before?

12, May, 2009Dr Milo Blogs