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Botox health benefits versus the risks

Reviewed by SarahK May 6, 2011 3 Comments

Botox has been making some big headlines in the past few weeks, both for positive and negative reasons. Here at TIA, we’re not exactly the neurotoxin’s most adoring fans. But, of course, to each her own. And just recently, the FDA made it clear that they side with the face-freezer not necessarily for its cosmetic benefits, but for its pain-relieving abilities.

Less than a year ago, the FDA approved Botox injections “to prevent headaches in adult patients with chronic migraine.” According to the doctor referenced in the FDA’s statement, “chronic migraine” implies that the pain occurs more than 14 days of the month and may often have debilitating effects on those who suffer from it. Though researchers are still unsure about exactly how Botox works to relieve people of migraines, one theory is that it “blocks pain signals from reaching nerve endings.” If you’re interested in getting treated, you’ll have to endure 31 injections every 3 months in 7 different areas around the head, face and neck.

Britain approved Botox for migraine treatment even before the United States did. And while some people think that the toxin is actually more of a miracle medicine (it’s already FDA approved to treat uncontrollable blinking, spasms, sweating and, of course, wrinkles), it is important to note that although Botox may have a statistically significant effect on migraines, it has a pretty minor effect in comparison to the placebo used in trials. Multiple studies have shown that Botox does not always outdo the placebo.

Still, just last week a study was published that further supports Botox’s health benefits. A woman with low cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) headaches was successfully treated (though not cured) with Botox injections. Though it is a very specific condition, the results of the woman’s treatment indicate that Botox may be more broadly applicable to treating various ailments.

However, not all is right in the world of Botox. Recently, Allergen (the company that creates and markets Botox) was ordered to pay 212 million dollars to Douglas Ray. The man was injected with Botox for hand tremors and became sick soon afterward. He now has permanent brain damage, which requires 24-hour care. Before this case (and, interestingly, right before the FDA approved Botox for treating headaches) Allergen had to pay 600 million dollars to the government for illegally marketing and selling Botox for unapproved uses – like tremors and headaches.

In the past, Botox has been known to cause serious reactions and even deaths, possibly from accidentally overdosing. Sometimes the toxin spreads beyond the injection site, which is what instigates the problems. “At a certain point the muscle being injected can't absorb all the botulinum and the toxin spills into the bloodstream. From there, it can cause breathing and swallowing problems.”

Many people know about the physical risks that Botox poses. But I was a little shocked when a study came out that found that the toxin may actually hinder people emotionally. According to findings, “emotion perception was significantly impaired in people who had received a cosmetic procedure that reduces muscular feedback from the face (Botox) compared to a procedure that does not reduce feedback (a dermal filler).” Basically, psychologists claim that humans identify one another’s emotions in part by imitating them. Because someone with Botox can’t mimic as well, they become less able to perceive other people’s feelings. In addition, a study was conducted in the past that claimed that recipients of Botox cannot feel their own emotions (thanks to a lack of facial expression), which in turn interferes with their ability to empathize. Sounds scary, not to mention a little farfetched. That is, at least until I remembered that something as seemingly inconsequential and subtle as forcing a smile can actually improve one’s mood, a phenomenon that has been proven over and over again by various scientists and doctors.

Botox is still something of a mystery; despite its abundance in cosmetologists’ offices, its effects on aspects other than wrinkles – including things as diverse as headaches and emotions – is up for debate. What are your thoughts on all of the recent news about Botox?

  • May 6, 2011

    by kelly

    Botox scares me. I wanted to combat aging but did not want to go the botox route... I did a lot of research and found argan oil. This pure, organic oil from Morocco has been used for years to thwart the effects of aging. I have made it a part of my daily routine for 3 months now - and I look great. Reduced wrinkles and an overall glow. I can use it on my hair, feet, nails - in the bath... Everywhere! Be careful where you buy - Argan oil is very expensive to extract so many providers dilute their product. I get mine at www.essenceofargan.com and it is fantastic. I hope this helps ;)

  • May 6, 2011

    by Marta

    Valerie that's almost shocking. Botox is botulism - a poison. I wouldn't want that near my mouth. I'm a grinder too and have succumbed to my dentist's advice to wear a mouth guard at night.

  • May 6, 2011

    by Valerie

    I have a "gummy" smile and was semi shocked when my periodontist said that I could have botox injected in my upper lip to stop my lip from rising up so much and showing too much gum. I also grind my teeth while I sleep. This is very bad for my teeth obviously. He also said I could use it to stop grinding. What happens if that injection goes wrong? Can you still chew or smile? :-) All of this scared me a bit and I haven't done either. Certainly, it is gaining in popularity, but is it really safe? I certainly don't know.

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