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Can Botox Really Treat Depression?

Photo: Irving Penn

Photo: Irving Penn

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world, affecting more than 300 million people across the globe. Interestingly, new studies suggest that the treatment can come from an unlikely source: Botox.

Research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research explored the effects of Botox injections in 30 participants, both male and female, between the ages of 18 and 65, who had been suffering from major depressive disorder for at least six months. After 24 weeks of muscle-freezing injections delivered directly to the “frown muscles,” participants reported significant improvement in their depression symptoms.

Another study, performed by researchers at the Hannover Medical School in Germany, came up with the concept that our facial expressions play a central driving force in our emotions, and Botox (botulinum toxin) can be used to tame them. So basically, if you can limit frowning gestures, feedback signals to the brain won’t reinforce the emotions.

“It is well known that our facial expressions play some role in our emotions,” said Dr Maurizio Viel, plastic surgeon at the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery. “However, we don’t think it’s totally responsible for our emotions.” The doctor’s twin brother, Dr Roberto Viel, says: “Smiling may help change our mindset to be more positive with the release of ‘happy’ hormones. Having Botox done effectively and naturally shouldn’t prevent you from smiling, it only prevents the frowning, which could be a good thing.” However, the doctors don’t believe it’s the most effective treatment of the illness. “Botox can smoothen out your frown lines, but it does not necessarily eliminate your ability to emote,” says Dr Roberto. There hasn’t been enough studies done, and the sample sizes were relatively small. “There simply has to be more evidence and research to show any link,” he says.

The doctors both agree that Botox has the ability to prevent depression not by freezing facial expressions but by giving you a sense of confidence. “We definitely believe in the theory of ‘look good, feel better,’” says Dr Maurizio. At both their Dubai and London practices, the doctors see a number of self-conscious patients who come in for Botox and leave feeling more comfortable in their skin. “We have seen women and men come in regularly for the treatment for the last 25 years because it gives them a confidence boost,” says Dr Viel.

The non-invasive treatment can also be used to prevent and treat a myriad of other health issues, including migraines and excessive sweating on the hands and feet. Just ensure you research your doctor beforehand. “Botox must only be administered by a licensed doctor and using legal products.” says Dr. Roberto.

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