How Treating Wrinkles May Also Relieve Depression

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It’s a popular cosmetic treatment, but early data hints that Botox could have a role in treating not just aging but mental illness as well.

And the connection may be skin deep. Research now suggests that treating frown lines and erasing the outward signs of aging may actually lift spirits among people with depression.

As odd (and superficial) as it sounds, the connection derives from a significant body of research. The idea that physical expressions of emotion influence our experience of feelings goes back to Charles Darwin, who studied emotions in both animals and humans in various cultures. Darwin referred to the frown muscles as the “grief muscles” and connected frowns to feelings of sadness.

(MORE: The Internet Knows You’re Depressed, but Can It Help You?)

“We feel sorry because we cry; we feel angry because we strike [out], and not vice versa,” Dr. Eric Finzi, medical director of the Chevy Chase Cosmetic Center in Maryland, said as he presented the latest study on Botox’s influence on depression at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in December.

Although later research has shown that the connection runs both ways — you can feel sorry and then cry, or the other way around — physically expressing an emotion does seem to be an important trigger for feelings. For example, forcing a frown can launch a depressed mood, while deliberately smiling can elevate it, at least temporarily (hence the research showing that people who laugh or smile regularly can improve their mood). Studies have also shown that people find jokes funnier when they place a pencil between their teeth lengthwise, which forces a smile, than when they hold it pointing outward, which doesn’t.

(MORE: How Childhood Trauma May Make the Brain Vulnerable to Addiction, Depression)

The new study is the second to compare Botox with a placebo, although the results have not yet been thoroughly reviewed enough for publication in a scientific journal. Two prior open-label studies and one small controlled trial, however, suggest that it holds promise.

The 84 study participants had severe depression that lasted on average for two years and had failed to completely respond to antidepressants. The patients were randomized to receive either Botox treatment for smoothing out frown lines or a placebo injection into the same facial region and were assessed three and six weeks later. By the end of the study, about 27% of those receiving Botox reported nearly complete remission of their depression, compared with just 7% of those who received the placebo.

“[This trial shows] that inhibition of frowning can lead to remission in depression,” Finzi said.

(MORE: Should Depressed People Avoid Having Children?)

While the data showed a trend that suggested greater remission was linked with a larger reduction in visible frowning, “an observable frown at rest was not necessary to see improvement,” he said.

Of course, it’s possible that Botox may be affecting depression in a more biological way, like through the immune system, which can be altered during depression. But Finzi said that other studies with larger Botox doses have not found significant systemic effects, leading him to believe its primary benefit may be in helping people to see themselves as happier.

Because there has been so little research, however, it’s too soon to suggest that Botox could be the next Prozac. But the results suggest an intriguing mind-body connection that could open up new ways to alleviate the symptoms of depression.

MORE: America’s Failing Mental-Health System: Families Struggle to Find Quality Care

11 comments
kathiehansen
kathiehansen

I got Botox for my forehead frown lines and was amazed at how much calmer and less depressed I started to feel. Its not becuase I looked better...I think it was becuase I wasn't frowning all day.ALso when I got my upper eyes done I am convinced the extra sunlight in my eyes made me feel a lot better

Backroads_Bounty
Backroads_Bounty

Next thing you know, you will hear from BIG PHARMA about how Botox has been found to extend a persons life into immortality. Its time to put strict regulations on pharmaceutical companies and their "green light" by officials in Washington that are pulling a paycheck from their lobbyists to use the American public as human guinea pigs! Perhaps all the fluoride in our water really has dumbed us down to the point of mindlessness - get a grip people, we are depressed because we have become soft and our coping skills have dwindled to non-existence and we feel powerless to what we have become - a godless society. If we each would begin by looking inward instead of to the next "wonder pill" or "wonder drug", we might just start to wake from the self-induced coma we have lapsed into...These may be tough words to hear but its time for tough love.

RhysBranman
RhysBranman

I talked to a therapist about this, and apparently another theory about why this may work is not only improved confidence, but also that emotions go both ways! From the brain to the muscles and the muscles to the brain, so if you relax the frown muscles, you also alter your mood. You have probably heard that if you feel bad you should smile and you will feel better?  It is interesting, but there is no real evidence of this usage of Botox yet, but it works great on wrinkles!

Dr Rhys Branman

Little Rock Cosmetic Surgery Center

ThomYorke
ThomYorke

This tells you how much self-perception affects mood, not necessarily that botox cures depression.

JujuCosta
JujuCosta

the body is connected to the soul and ppl react on how u look and ur image and u capture that response.

also, it releases the muscles tension 

SaraRose
SaraRose

A study conducted by a Botox promoter concludes that Botox is good. Great news!

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

A load of b******s . Just like the first comment .

AdamSmith1
AdamSmith1

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