Updated 04 July 2014

How botox could treat depression

Botox treatments may prevent the muscles of the face and the brain from registering negative emotions, lifting depression


Recent research has shown that Botox can take away more than just your wrinkles - it can make you happy!

What is botox?

Botox is a cosmetic dermatology practice where botulinum toxin is injected into the face to treat wrinkles and facial creases. Botox blocks signals received by the muscles from the nerves, causing wrinkles to seemingly disappear.

Many of us have heard the clichéd saying, “it takes more muscles to frown than to smile.”

How can it make me really happy?

A scowl is a facial expression that is primarily responsible for wrinkles and lines in the face.

After going through Botox, a patient can’t form negative facial expressions, and researchers believe this may be a good thing.

Read: Freezing could be better for wrinkles than botox

“Our emotions are expressed by facial muscles, which in turn send feedback signals to the brain to reinforce those emotions,” said study investigator Tillmann Kruger at a press release at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 Annual Meeting. “Treating facial muscles with botulinum toxin interrupts this cycle.”

Read: Botox for enlarged prostate

The theory that facial expressions may feed information back to our brains and influence our feelings was first proposed by Charles Darwin in the 17th century. Darwin suggested that face muscles are imperative for not only showing emotions, but for recognising and experiencing emotions.

He believed that if you limit yourself from showing certain emotions, you, in turn, limit yourself from feeling that specific emotion.

Past studies have shown that Botox impairs a person’s ability to classify another’s feelings, which plays in favour of Darwin’s theory. By limiting yourself from frowning, you are in turn reducing your feelings of sadness or anger.

Read: Botox for cerebral palsy?

In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology demonstrated that a negative mood is harder to maintain when frown muscles are paralysed, therefore causing Botox patients to feel more positive.  

The James-Lange theory, which was developed by William James and Carl Lange, two scholars of the 19th-century, takes Darwin’s theory of emotion even further. The James-Lange theory proposes that showing emotions results in, and does not cause, numerous bodily sensations.

“We feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be,” explained James.

Dr. Eric Finzi, medical director at the Chevy Chase Cosmetic Centre, has further established this theory in his latest research, showing that forcing a frown can cause a depressed mood, while forcing a smile can temporarily boost happiness.

Read: Botox sponge treats rhinitis
How botox can lift people out of a depression

Recent research has tested and has found that Botox can noticeably improve symptoms of clinical depression in a quarter of patients, including those who had not responded to antidepressant medications.

In the first randomised and controlled study of the effects of Botox, published in the May 2014 edition of the Journal of Psychiatric Research, 74 participants were given a single dose of Botox, which consisted of five injections, in their foreheads, while the control group was given placebo injections.

In six weeks, depression in the treatment group decreased by 47 percent, and improvement continued throughout the 16-week study period, whereas the placebo group had only a 9 percent improvement.

Read: Botox silences voice disorders

However, numerous studies have tested this theory of emotion by aiming to alter facial expressions, in absence of Botox, to then study whether one’s emotional experience is then affected.

One experiment had subjects hold a pen between their teeth, simulating a smile, without the subject’s knowledge of the purpose of the experiment.

These patients found cartoons funnier.

In another experiment, two golf tees were placed on both sides of subjects’ foreheads. When the tees were closer together, simulating a frown, the subjects rated disagreeable photos more negatively.

These studies have implicated that you can get all the anti-depressant benefits as a Botox patient gets by simply practising relaxation techniques and by smiling more.

Read: Botox to treat hayfever

Traditionally, Botox was seen merely as a cosmetic treatment, but within recent years, this powerful toxin has been used in various medical applications.

Not only could it lead to a cure for clinical depression and anxiety, which one in 10 of the general population suffers from at any one time, but it has also been used to treat overactive bladders, strokes, crow’s feet, an enlarged prostate and voice disorders, to name a few.

Read more:

Botox minimises scarring
Botox to treat strokes
Botox approved for crow's feet

Sources: Huffington Post, NY Times, Psych Central, An Introduction to the History of Psychology and Scientific American


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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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