Botox has been used to safely and effectively remove wrinkles and treat facial paralysis and spasm since the late 80’s. In this capacity it has been one of the most powerful tools in the Plastic Surgeon’s arsenal, as well as one of the most accurate treatments in the plastic surgery world. With Botox one is able to pinpoint specific wrinkles of the face without affecting surrounding tissue. In 2010, the FDA announced that Botox had been approved to treat chronic headaches; today this is one of the most common uses of Botox by neurologists and plastic surgeons alike. Now, scientists have shocked the world again with a new use for the versatile chemical: new research suggests that Botox can be an effective force for improving the lives of individuals with many types of depression.
The key is a psychological phenomenon whereby the brain gets involved in a feedback loop with the facial muscles, causing mounting anxiety and hopelessness. In other words, when you patient frowns they feel more depressed, which causes them to frown more, which causes them to feel more depressed, and so on. Botox interrupts this loop at its source by paralyzing the muscles the patient uses to frown. Cosmetic surgeons have long noted a positive correlation between patient mood and the removal of frown lines below the nose: now we have numbers to back those anecdotes up.
Speaking of numbers, the results of the study are absolutely staggering. Doctors tested a total of thirty patients with severe, highly medication resistant depression–patients who had gone from doctor to doctor, were fed up with the system, and considered at significant risk of self-harm. After a single treatment with Botox, these patients experienced a significant jump in quality of life, and an average 47.1% reduction in depression symptoms (a net 38% improvement over the Placebo group). At the end of the Botox regimen used by the study, effects had actually increased, and even fewer patients where feeling the effects of depression.
Excitement among the medical community abounds for this discovery. One of the traditional problems with treating depression has been the expensiveness of psychiatric medication, while Botox is relatively affordable due to how infrequently it must be used. While further study will be required before we know exactly how long the effects persist, researchers are highly optimistic, with some expecting lifelong improvement following just a few years of treatment.