Botox may ease depression, whether it's used for wrinkles, migraines, or muscle spasms

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  • People who receive Botox injections for a range of ailments are less likely to report depression than those who receive other treatments for the same ailments, a study suggests.
  • The results are surprising because past and ongoing research has only linked Botox in the face to lessened depression.
  • More research is needed to understand why Botox seems to have an antidepressant effect, and to determine the best place to inject for depression relief.

Get Botox for wrinkles, migraines, incontinence, or excessive sweating and you may benefit from a pleasant side effect: less depression, according to a comprehensive study out July 30 in Scientific Reports.

For the study, researchers used the FDA's Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS) database to review nearly 40,000 people's experiences with Botox.

They found that people who received Botox for a variety of conditions reported depression 40 to 88% less than people who received other treatments for those same conditions. Put another way, it seems you're less likely to experience depression if you choose Botox for your wrinkles, migraines, or muscle pain than if you opt for a different drug. Advertisement

Research has suggested Botox in the face seems to ease depression not so much because it boosts self-image but because the smoother frown lines tell your brain you're less sad.

But the current study suggests Botox's apparent antidepressant effect is more complex because it doesn't seem to be limited to the face. People who got injections in their bladders for incontinence or their leg muscles to control spasms experienced it too.

"That means we have more opportunities to repurpose Botox as an antidepressant treatment, and it also means that our understanding of the mechanism of the effect needs to be revisited and modified," co-author Ruben Abagyan, a professor of pharmacy at the University of California San Diego, told Insider.

Botox may travel to parts of the nervous system involved in mood

The UCSD researchers hypothesize that a few things may be going on. Botox may travel to parts of the central nervous system involved in mood and emotion. Its toxins could also "escape" and be more evenly distributed throughout the blood, leading to an antidepressant effect, Abagyan said.

There's also a potentially simple explanation. People who no longer experience quality-of-life depleting conditions like migraines and muscle pain due to Botox may, as a result, be less depressed. However, that doesn't explain the observed differences in Botox's ability to ease depression compared to other treatments for the same conditions. Advertisement

More research is needed to understand how Botox's apparent antidepressant effect works

The study's conclusions should be taken cautiously because the data used wasn't specifically collected to see if Botox eased depression.

Plus, the FAERS system is an incomplete picture of all patients who take a certain drug since it only collects information from people who've experienced — and report — negative side effects.

In this case, the researchers looked at people who reported negative side effects from Botox but didn't mention depression and compared them to people who reported negative side effects from other medications and did mention depression. Advertisement

(People who reported taking antidepressants weren't included in the study.)

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The researchers say their work supports the need for clinical trials to determine if there's an optimal site for Botox injection to ease depression, and for other research to suss out why the medication seems to have this effect. Advertisement

Abagyan said he'd tell a friend or relative to hold off on seeking Botox for depression if they have no other use for the medication until more research is available.

But, he said, "If, in addition to depression, you already have some other indication for a Botox treatment, for example, spasticity, migraine, excessive sweating, or unwanted wrinkles, try it since you may kill two flies with one slap."