Best known for its anti-wrinkle action, a study suggests that Botox could also be an effective treatment for depression.
The toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum are the most powerful poisons in the living world. 40 million times more active than cyanide: it may seem hard to believe, but barely a microgram (a thousandth of a milligram) can cause the death of a human. Which means that a single kilogram of these toxins would be enough to kill the entire human population on the planet.
Fortunately, botulinum toxin poisoning is very rare. Being essentially caused by the presence of the bacteria in poorly sterilized canned food (botulism). Following the ingestion of a contaminated food, the toxins penetrate inside the neurons and block the release of acetylcholine at the level of the junctions between the nerves and the muscles. The absence of the neurotransmitter then prevents muscle contraction.
He had indeed observed that the local injection of minute quantities of the poison led to the paralysis and relaxation of the muscles located under the wrinkles, which makes it possible to attenuate their appearance for a short period of time (generally two to three months). ). This innovation would completely revolutionize the world of cosmetic surgery, with more than five million procedures performed in the United States alone since the approval of Botox and its derivatives as an anti-wrinkle agent.
50% of symptoms of depression disappeared
In addition to reducing wrinkles, some researchers have observed that injecting Botox into the glabellar region (located between the brow bones, above the nose) was associated with a significant improvement in patients’ mood. This improvement was particularly dramatic in some depressed people. A simple treatment with Botox being associated with a complete disappearance of depression.
To examine the antidepressant effect of Botox in more detail, a team of scientists recruited 30 people with depression and injected their glabellar region with a dose of Botox or a saline solution containing no toxins. The study was carried out in “double blind”, that is to say that neither the participants nor the doctors knew if the injected dose contained Botox. Patients were then closely followed for a few weeks to assess the severity of depressive symptoms using well-established diagnostic methods. The results obtained are absolutely stunning: a single injection of Botox caused a reduction of approximately 50% in depressive symptoms compared to only 2% for the placebo.
Contractions of facial muscles send signals to the brain
According to the authors, this positive effect is due to the close link that exists between our facial muscles and our mood: emotions are often expressed by tension in the muscles of the face, but this tension also sends signals to the brain that accentuate the negative impact of these emotions. For a depressed person, the relaxation of the muscles by Botox would therefore make it possible to interrupt this vicious circle and to attenuate the effect of negative emotions on morale.
Other more reliable approaches against depression
But let’s be honest, Botox injections are not a viable long-term solution to treating temporary or severe depression. On the other hand, a diet such as the Mediterranean diet, psychotherapies such as EMDR or regular physical activity have shown much more conclusive effects over time on depression.
But the merit of this study is to point out that paying attention to your facial expressions, relaxing the eyebrow region when you are upset or worried, can send beneficial signals to the brain promoting good mood and deep relaxation.
Magid M et al. Treatment of major depressive disorder using botulinum toxin A: a 24-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J. Clin. Psychiatry; 75:837-44.