Doctor Eric Finzi, a respected Maryland dermatologist, has found a controversial application for the neurotoxin known as Botox as a treatment for depression, according to reports broadcast on Friday, March 15, 2013 by National Public Radio's Here & Now aired on WBUR Boston, and earlier media coverage by The Guardian and the Huffington Post.
Botox, a Botulinum toxin, has long been approved by the FDA for cosmetic applications to reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging, as well as for many off-label uses in the treatment of sweating, chronic migraine headaches, involuntary contractions of the eyelids called blepharospasms, Strabismus, a condition which is more commonly called crossed-eyes, and a variety of other skeletal muscle diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome and bladder problems.
Depression, however, has traditionally been treated as a biochemical imbalance in the brain affecting a cross section of the population, and as high as 44% of college students in the United States, according to a study published in Mental Health America. It is often treated with drugs or talk therapy.
But that may change if Dr. Finzi's findings published in his book "The Face of Emotion" is able to influence the FDA. As Dr. Finzi explained on NPR, Botox injections would be just another tool available to physicians. His theories are based on observations that facial expressions reflect a person's moods, something universally recognized by others. For example, a furled brow is usually interpreted as anger combined with stress.
While Botox has long been used to relax muscles, its benefits, like beauty, may be more than just skin deep. If facial expressions can be altered by Botox, Dr. Finzi believes that it can also alter the underlying moods of a person.
Such a radical view is not isolated. Other researchers have also found that eliminating frowning helps to elevate moods, similar to the lines in a Nat King Cole song:
"Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you"
Such treatment is currently experimental, and not covered by FDA guidelines or insurance benefits. A typical series of 5 Botox shots can cost as much as $400.
The drug has been widely used since the 1960s for an expanding list of medical treatments, although cosmetic applications are more widely known. The effects of a Botox injection will wear off within 3 to 4 months. That just may be enough time to break the cycle of a person's chronic depression, or even produce faster benefits when combined with other modes of treatment.
Like other poisonous substances, including rattlesnake venom and bee stings, Botox has been used to benefit mankind. As Dr. Finzi told Robin Young on Hear and Now, "There are millions of people who are depressed, who've tried anti-depressants and talk therapy. Some of them may have even tried shock therapy. And for those people, if it helps them, this would be great to have one more tool in the little toolkit box of the physician to help them."
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