Botox is the name given to a common beauty treatment that involves injecting a therapeutic amount of a neurotoxin into the body.
Typically used to paralyze muscles in the attempt to prevent wrinkles, experts say there may be an even better reason to use this potentially deadly substance in the body.
According to on-going research, Botox may be a plausible treatment option for people who have treatment-resistant depression.
How does Botox work?
First, to understand why Botox is effective against depression, it is important to understand how Botox works.
The drug is comprised of a potent neurotoxin harvested from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This neurotoxin, botulinum toxin, is, according to Medical News Today, one of the poisonous substances known to man, ad experts estimate a single gram could kill as many as one million people and a couple of kilos could kill every human on earth.
When used in therapeutic doses, however, botulinum toxin is a valuable medical tool. In addition to beauty treatments, it can be used to help muscle-related conditions that have to do with the bladder, migraines and eye issues, among others. So how does this neurotoxin that paralyzes muscles benefit people who have depression?
The complexities of emotion
The secret to why Botox is useful for people with depression has to do with how the brain processes emotions. As far back at the 17th century, a theory has existed that facial muscles not only work as a way to express emotions, they are also pivotal to how the brain experiences emotions.
“Darwin suggested that facial muscles arent only responsible for the expression of emotion, but also in our experience and perception of it. His argument put forth the idea that if we limit the illustration of our feelings, then we limit physical response; i.e., reducing frowning in turn reduces feeling sad or angry,” explained Patrick Bowler, MD on PsychCentral. “Frown muscles are responsible for lines, but are also important in expressing normally negative emotions such as sadness, fear, anger and distress. A Botoxed patient cant physically form the expressions necessary to portray these emotions; the procedure renders it impossible.”
This link between facial muscles and how the brain processes emotions is what drive the Botox treatment theory. Without the ability to display negative emotions, a patient’s brain is unable to maintain that negative mood for an extended period of time.
“Our emotions are expressed by facial muscles, which in turn send feedback signals to the brain to reinforce those emotions. Treating facial muscles with botulinum toxin interrupts this cycle,” study investigator Prof. Tillmann Kruger said at a press conference at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 Annual Meeting.
Kruger recently headed up a study confirming earlier data on the topic. In his research, he and fellow researchers from Germany found six weeks after a single treatment, a test Botox group had an average 47.1 percent reduction in depression symptoms compared to 9.2 reduction in depression for a placebo group.