Can Botox Help With Depression?


Tell your paralyzed face muscles to tell your brain: The $2.7 billion drug widely used to ease wrinkles, treat migraines, and help chill out super sweaty armpits may soon be prescribed for another function: helping with depression.

More than a decade ago, Los Angeles Times reporter Susan Brink reported on a doctor who noticed some of his patients seemed to feel better after Botox treatments. On a hunch that this was more than the result of simply feeling better because they perceived themselves to look better, he conducted a tiny study of 10 women who were given surveys and analyzed by a psychologist, who confirmed that the women selected experienced mild to moderate depression. The women were given injections in their frown lines, and two months later, when they were reevaluated, 9 out of 10 women reported diminished symptoms of depression.

Granted, a 10-person sample doesn’t even come close to providing substantial results. But fast forward ten years to today, and Allegran, the pharmaceutical company that produces Botox, is doubling down, getting ready to conduct a large, late-stage clinical trial, despite what some consider dubious results from a previous 260-person study. The Financial Times reports that “a 30-unit dose of Botox appeared to be better at improving the symptoms of depression than the dummy drug, but the results were not strong enough to be sure the findings were scientifically significant. Further complicating the picture, a larger 50-unit dose of the drug showed no benefit compared with the placebo.”

Nonetheless, Allegran is pushing forward, despite several investors having strong reservations, according to the Financial Times. The theory behind its efficacy largely resides in the “facial feedback” theory developed by that Charles Darwin guy, which essentially asserts that your facial expressions inform your mood. Thus, if Botox reduces your ability to frown or furrow your brow, your brain may not pick up on those frowny or furrowy vibes.

As with any depression treatment, the particular challenge lies in developing a basis of study when it relies on patients’ subjective answers to questions about mood and emotions--things that are not easily quantifiable. But the top brass at Allegran is very optimistic (which makes a lot of sense, considering they could stand to generate an additional $2 to $4 billion if the drug was approved for this particular use). Stay tuned for further developments on whether you’ll be able to simultaneously knock out your frown lines and their underlying cause at the same time.

-Deena Drewis