Botox® has been a mainstay of medical practitioners for decades. In fact, the applications of Botox are so diverse—from smoothing out frown lines to eliminating crow’s feet to alleviating hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and even providing relief from migraines—that you might wonder if there is anything Botox can’t do.
Now mentions of Botox are showing up somewhere that may surprise even its biggest fans—as the focus of psychiatric research indicating that Botox may help relieve major depressive disorder (MDD). MDD is a serious illness, negatively affecting all aspects of a patient’s life—from home to work to social interactions.
In 2012, researchers studied a group of patients diagnosed with MDD whose depression had not abated with treatment. During the study, these patients received a single dose (five shots) of botulinum toxin between and above their eyebrows. A control group received placebo injections in the same area. After six weeks, symptoms of depression had decreased by 47% in the treatment group (versus 9% in the placebo group).
A forthcoming study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research had similar results. In research described as “groundbreaking,” scientists examined the reactions of 74 patients with depression, half of whom were injected with Botox and half of whom received saline.
The injections were placed in the same facial area as in the 2012 study. Of the patients who received Botox, 52% showed significant relief from depressive symptoms.
Scientists believe that Botox is effective in relieving depressive symptoms because it freezes facial muscles involved in frowning, suggesting that our facial expressions not only reflect our mood, they may also affect mood.
Because the patients receiving Botox could not produce the less happy expressions using the muscles “frozen” by Botox, scientists surmise this had a positive effect on the patients’ depressive symptoms.
Scientists are enthusiastic about this outcome because up to 50% of patients suffering from MDD do not respond to anti-depressant therapy after taking it for at least six weeks. These treatment-resistant patients have a higher risk of requiring psychiatric hospitalization and may be more likely to attempt suicide. Botox may very well provide a lifeline to patients whom conventional treatments have failed.