This super trendy cosmetic procedure can also help treat depression

Botox injections are synonymous with plastic surgery and getting rid of unwanted wrinkles. Beyond its more vain uses, however, Botox may just serve another purpose: depression treatment. 

After performing an extensive analysis of pre-existing data, researchers from the University of California, San Diego found that people who received Botox injections subsequently reported far fewer depressive episodes than others who underwent different treatments for the same issues.

Cosmetic procedures and mental health don’t exactly go hand in hand most of the time, but doctors have noticed a possible link between Botox and depression for quite some time.

“For years, clinicians have observed that Botox injected for cosmetic reasons seems to ease depression for their patients,” explains study co-author Ruben Abagyan, Ph.D., professor of pharmacy at UCSD, in a release. “It’s been thought that easing severe frown lines in the 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.”

Depression is a complex disease capable of taking root in an individual for a variety of reasons. People can spend their entire lives battling depression, and along the way usually try out numerous potential solutions. Everything under the sun, from meditation or a more active social life to more complex ideas like deep brain stimulation or transcranial magnetic stimulation, has been put forth as an effective depression treatment. In many cases, what helps one person may not work for another. Now, this research suggests Botox injections are a legitimate depression treatment option.

It sounds like a silly notion at first, but the effect of Botox forehead injections on depression are actually being tested right now in clinical trials. With these medical trials in mind, researchers at UCSD decided to examine a huge collection of information from the FDA’s Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS) database. That data provided a glimpse into the mental health outcomes of close to 40,000 people after they had received some Botox injections.

That analysis revealed that people who had been given Botox injections in six different areas of their body (so, not just the forehead) experienced less depression than others who underwent different procedures or treatments.

“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,” adds study co-author Tigran Makunts, a research fellow at the FDA.

The near 40,000 reports from Botox patients used for this study were originally collected to identify any negative or adverse effects associated with Botox use, and only represent a small fraction of the full FAERS database. In total, the FAERS database features over 13 million reports from patients who have tried a wide array of medications or treatments.

But, the study’s authors realized they could also use this data to find the absence of depression among Botox patients when compared to a control group of other people who didn’t receive any Botox injections. In this way, they were able to use a dataset originally intended to find Botox drawbacks to instead find benefits.

Botox treatments for eight different purposes (wrinkle reduction, muscle spasms, etc) spread across eight injection locations (limbs, neck, forehead, bladder, etc) were included in the analysis. A mathematical algorithm was used to sift through the data and identify statistically significant differences between Botox and non-Botox patients.

The ensuing findings were quite remarkable. For six of eight included injection sites and conditions, patients who received Botox injections reported feeling depressed 40-88% less often.

While these results are no doubt promising, more research is warranted before any conclusive statements can be made. To start, the data included in this study only featured patients reporting some type of negative outcome associated with Botox. So, that right there limits its scope.

There’s also the nagging question of “how” that comes along with these surprising conclusions. How exactly is Botox alleviating depression? The study’s authors theorize that upon injection Botox may eventually make its way to the region of the central nervous system responsible for mood and emotion regulation. 

On a more practical level, people often opt for Botox injections because they’re feeling unsatisfied with their appearance. It is possible Botox may reduce depression just by helping people feel better about their looks.

On the surface Botox injections for depression make about as much sense as therapy sessions for six-pack abs, but if Botox really does prove to be an effective mental health aid, there’s no reason not to embrace it as a legitimate treatment option.

The full study can be found here, published in Scientific Reports.