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Botox injections don’t just banish wrinkles – they could also help treat depression, study suggests 

Botox injections don’t just banish wrinkles — they could also help to treat depression, a study has suggested. 

Experts from the US and Germany mined a database of reported negative side-effects from medication usage, with a focus on patients who had Botox injections.

They found patients who had Botox with side effects were 40–88 per cent less likely to suffer depression than those undergoing other treatments for the same reasons.

Botox is used to treat various conditions outside of cosmetic procedures — including excess sweating, migraines, spasms and overactive bladders.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people across the globe experience depression.

While the condition is normally treated with a combination of psychotherapy and anti-depressant medications, these are ineffective for around a third of patients.

Accordingly, new treatment options are much sought-after — however, it remains to be confirmed exactly how Botox might be able to combat depression.

‘For years, clinicians have observed that Botox injected for cosmetic reasons seems to ease depression for their patients,’ said paper author and pharmacologist Ruben Abagyan of University of California, San Diego.

‘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.’

The US Food and Drug Administration’s Adverse Effect Reporting System — or FAERS, for short — is a database of negative effects that people have reported after taking various medications. It contains some 13 million individual reports.

The system was designed to help monitor for the emergence of new adverse effects to drugs, to ensure that each remains suitably low risk to continue prescribing.

In their study, however, Professor Abagyan and colleagues realised that they could use the database differently — to pick out when people experienced the absence of a given condition, as compared to a control group, when taking certain medications.

After ruling out cases where individuals had received both antidepressants and Botox, the team picked out nearly 40,000 reports from people who had experienced adverse effects after receiving the neurotoxin injections.

These reports covered Botox treatments for eight different reasons — with injections sites including locations in the forehead, limbs, neck and bladder. 

The researchers’ analysis indicated that patients treated with Botox at six out of the eight injection sites reported depression between 40–88 per cent less often than patients who were treated differently for the same conditions. 

‘This finding is exciting because it supports a new treatment to affect mood and fight depression, one of the common and dangerous mental illnesses,’ said paper author Tigran Makunts, also of the University of California San Diego.

Furthermore, he added, the results are ‘based on a very large body of statistical data, rather than limited-scale observations.’

The team have hypothesised that, after injection, Botox may travel to parts of the central nervous system that regulate emotions and moods — and that they could be having an impact there.  

The findings, however, do come with some caveats. Firstly, while the team controlled for antidepressant usage, they were not able to rule out the potential impact of other prescription and over-the-counter medications. 

Furthermore, the FAERS database only covers a subset of Botox users — those that reported experiencing negative side-effects from the treatment — and therefore the findings may not be representative of the injection’s wider effects.

In addition, it is possible that the Botox treatment — in successfully resolving other medical issues — might serve to indirectly mitigate depression.

At present, clinical trials are underway to explore if forehead injections of Botox might be successfully used in the treatment of depression — however, the researchers said, additional trials now might be called for exploring other sites.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports. 

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