Botox and the Brain: Beauty is Pain

Botox and the Brain: Beauty is Pain

I’m sure you’ve heard of Botox.


Botox is derived from a deadly bacteria. It’s a clostridium that kills its victim by emitting botulinum toxin, which may paralyze an infected person and stop him from breathing. Can you imagine how horrible it would be; being awake and alert and trying as hard as you can but not being able to take a breath?


But, like a number of other poisons, if used properly, Botox can have beneficial effects. The FDA approved Botox to treat a bunch of ailments, including severe muscle spasms and migraine headaches. But it’s popularity really took off once the plastic surgeons and dermatologists got hold of it. The FDA also approved Botox for cosmetic use, such as lines on the forehead and crows’ feet.


But there’s evidence that Botox might have effects on your brain. And although many people have said, “beauty is pain”, it may not be worth Botox in the brain. 


“Wait a minute,” you may be saying. “If my doctor injected Botox in my face, how would it even get into my brain?”


It turns out that Italian scientists have shown that Botox injected into rats’ whiskers found its way into their brains. When I posted that information on Facebook and Twitter, someone commented “Kudos to the Italian scientists who can inject into rats’ whiskers!


And it’s not just in laboratory animals. 


Australian researchers reported that when the Botox protein is injected someplace in your body, it may not stay put. They discovered that the toxin may be transported from the injection site, along the length of local nerves and all the way up into the brain. 


Other research suggests that Botox injections that smooth your forehead may dull your brain.


Swiss scientists measured electrical impulses emanating from the brain before and after Botox was injected into some volunteers’ faces. They reported that after Botox injections, the EEG amplitude from several brain regions was significantly diminished. 


Also, Botox may not need to get into your central nervous system to cause trouble. Botox may be able to affect your mind without getting into your brain. 


It’s long been known that you can become more happy just by smiling. Psychological researchers have reported that when you move your facial muscles to imitate a smile (for example by putting a pencil between your teeth) you also become significantly more happy. 


Similarly, When you’re speaking with a friend whose forehead is furrowed by worry, your facial muscles automatically and unconsciously mimic hers. Your brain empathizes with her while your face mirrors hers. 


If your facial muscles are paralyzed by Botox (and that’s how Botox works, by temporarily paralyzing targeted muscles) it limits your ability to tune into the emotions of others. It also makes it more difficult for you to feel the full range of emotions. This may have short or even long term psychological effects.


On the other hand, I have spoken with highly qualified and respected physicians who have administered Botox for both cosmetic and non-cosmetic reasons for many years. For example, these doctors use Botox to alleviate muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or stroke. Muscle spasms like that can be extremely painful. Without the benefit of Botox the spastic muscles may even cause deformity. Botox for cosmetic treatment is used in much smaller doses,which should further limit the potential side effects. These doctors have told me that it “Doesn’t seem like Botox would interact negatively in the brain based on its mechanism of action.” And what’s more, they say that the effects of Botox are temporary and wear off after a few weeks or months. 


The bottom line is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If any drug delivers positive effects it also has a downside; potential side effects or complications. Botox is no exception. My own feeling is that I’ve earned all of my wrinkles (along with each one of my grey hairs). So, you can keep that poison away from my face.