Women who use Botox anti-wrinkle treatment have been warned that the treatment could lead to paralysis.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) warned that Botox -- botulinum toxin, used by celebrities and the well-heeled, is a viciously powerful neurotoxin that at high doses can cause fatal paralysis.
At low doses, it is licensed for use to treat neurological conditions such as facial tics and muscular spasms in the neck, back, fingers and wrists.
But it is starting to move out of the clinic and into unlicensed areas, driven by a frenzied demand by men and women who want to look younger.
By paralysing muscles that cause wrinkles in the forehead, it can smooth out age and worry lines.
Sales driven by celebrities
Global sales of Botox have risen from 25 million dollars in 1993 to an estimated 430 million this year, driven especially in the United States, the home of "Botox parties," where
champagne-guzzling socialites are injected with the drug.
The craze has been driven by media coverage and endorsements by celebrities in the music and movie business.
One person who has acknowledged having used it is Sir Cliff Richard, the veteran British singer whose tabloid nickname is appropriately "the Peter Pan of pop."
In May, British high street group Boots started to offer injections, administered by doctors, at three stores for 200 pounds (R3 000).
Long-term effects unknown
In an editorial published in the November 23 issue, the British Medical Journal sternly warns that many aspects of Botox's long-term impact on health have never been explored, especially on the nervous system.
"Robust evidence for the action of botulinum toxin on sensory neurones is lacking," according to the editorial, written by Peter Misra, a consultant at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.
"Animal experiments have shown that botulinum toxin affects the transmission of afferent nerves," he said, referring to nerves that relay signals from the limbs to the central nervous system.
Other studies, among rats, have shown that Botox can block the release of nerve-signal chemicals called neurotransmitters in rats, he said.
"It is easy to forget that botulinum toxin is a potent neurotoxin and that its very long-term effects are still unknown," he warned. – (Sapa)