Botox's often used to smooth wrinkles, but can it also ease depression?

31 July 2020 - 09:00 By AFP Relaxnews
New research has found that Botox injections could potentially help treat depression. File image.
New research has found that Botox injections could potentially help treat depression. File image.
Image: 123RF / Michaeljung

Though it's better known as a cosmetic treatment used to reduce and prevent wrinkles, Botox could potentially be used as a treatment for depression according to a new review.

Botox, a medication derived from a bacterial toxin called Botulinum toxin, is already used to treat health conditions such as migraines, muscle spasms, excessive sweating and incontinence.

To investigate whether Botox might help ease depressive symptoms, researchers at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego looked at reports from nearly 40,000 people in the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)'s Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS) database, which contains more than 13 million voluntary reports of adverse effects people have experienced while taking a medication.

The reports used in the study were not collected with the purpose of investigating the association between Botox and depression, but were submitted by people recounting what happened to them after Botox treatments.

The researchers looked at reports from Botox users who had had the injections for eight different reasons and across different injection sites, including the forehead, neck, limbs and bladder. Reports related to patients taking antidepressants or reports containing depression as one of the indications were excluded.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that depression was reported 40% to 88% less often by patients who had Botox for six of the eight conditions — hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), facial wrinkles, migraine, spasticity and spasms — than patients undergoing different treatments for the same conditions. The improvements in depression were found in patients receiving treatment across six different injection sites, not just in the forehead, which is a common injection site.

A clinical trial is also under way to test forehead injections of Botox as a potential treatment for depression.

“For years, clinicians have observed that Botox injected for cosmetic reasons seems to ease depression for their patients,” said lead author Ruben Abagyan, PhD, professor of pharmacy. “It's been thought that easing severe frown lines in forehead region disrupts a feedback loop that reinforces negative emotions. But we've found here that the mechanism may be more complex, because it doesn't really matter where the Botox is injected.”

Tigran Makunts, who also worked on the study, added, “This finding is exciting because it supports a new treatment to affect mood and fight depression, one of the common and dangerous mental illnesses — and it's based on a very large body of statistical data, rather than limited-scale observations.”