When most people think of Botox, the first thing that springs to mind is the cosmetic injection that smoothes away wrinkles and lines, and makes the face seem instantly younger-looking.
The medicinal uses for Botox are becoming better known too. It’s now been approved in more than 80 countries for over 20 conditions including migraines, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and various other medical conditions.
And now scientists believe it could also be used to treat depression – by physically stopping people frowning! A trial in the US has shown that Botox has relieved symptoms in more than a quarter of depressed patients.
Dr Eric Finzi of the Chevy Chase Cosmetic Centre has studied the influence that physical expressions have on our emotions. He believes that the mood of those with clinical depression can be improved by eradicating frown lines because frowning sends signals to the brain indicating the body is under stress.
Botox works by paralysing muscles to prevent them going into spasm or contracting regularly and it can therefore be used on the frown areas of a depressed patient’s face to physically stop a frown forming. So it’s not actually the Botox itself, but the effect which it has, which it’s claimed can lift a person’s mood.
Dr Finzi believes that by forcing someone to look constantly happy (by making their face form a deliberate smile and being physically unable to frown), they will actually FEEL happier.
This is because smiling releases endorphins, which make people feel happy, into the bloodstream … and it works, even if the smile is being faked! Negative facial expressions can make a person start to feel negative thoughts – force them to smile and they’ll start to feel happier.
In his most recent study, 27 per cent of those with severe depression reported that the illness had nearly completely gone. But after 8 months, when the effects of the Botox had worn off, many of them said their symptoms had come back.
Dr Finzi also believes in a ‘facial-feedback’ hypothesis – a feedback loop in which people frown back at someone who is depressed. But if a depressed person can’t frown because of Botox, then others won’t frown back at them, thereby breaking the loop and thereby reducing negative body signals which may help to elevate mood.
Of course, you don’t need to have Botox injections just to make you smile – we could all do with smiling a bit more! When we smile, our face becomes relaxed and we naturally feel happier.
As the saying goes, laugh and the world laughs with you. If you need some encouragement, here’s an interesting fact – laughing 100 times has the same effect on the body as being on a rowing machine for 10 minutes or riding a stationary bike for 15 minutes. So forget going to the gym, just have a good old chuckle instead!