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Botox and Depression

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Here’s a fascinating possibility for the use of Botox, which is usually injected for cosmetic reasons. New research suggests it may be possible to treat depression by paralyzing key facial muscles with this drug which prevents people from frowning and making other unhappy expressions.

Writing in the New York Times, Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College reported on a study that gave patients with major depression either Botox or a placebo of saline injections. Six weeks after the injection, more than half the people who got Botox showed relief from depression, compared with only 15 percent of those who received the placebo. This despite the surprising fact that only half the subjects getting Botox guessed correctly that they had received the real thing.

It brings to mind a chicken and egg kind of question: do we frown because we’re unhappy or are we unhappy because we frown? Dr. Friedman says idea that facial expressions feed information to the brain and influence our feelings goes back to Charles Darwin. And it’s been shown, for instance, that if you fake laughter, in laughter yoga, it releases endorphins and brings on the real thing.

More research is needed to prove whether Botox will be an effective antidepressant. If it does pan out, it will raise another question:  Did Botox treat or prevent depression in some of the thousands of people who use it to improve their appearance?

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