There may be more than just cosmetic benefits to using the drug best-known for smoothing wrinkles.
A new study has found that Botox may cure severe depression, and other studies have found the toxin can be used to fight Parkinson's disease, control bladder problems, and treat prostate cancer.
According to a paper published last week in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery, a small pilot study conducted by Dr. Eric Finzi found nine of 10 depressed patients recovered from their depressive symptoms after getting Botox injections between the eyebrows -- nearly twice the success rate of anti-depressants. Finzi has since expanded his study to 15 patients.
"The 14 of 15 actually went from being depressed to no longer being depressed," said Finzi, a medical director and president of Chevy Chase Cosmetic Center in Chevy Chase, Md., and Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Associates in Greenbelt, Md.
Finzi said he was testing the theory that Botox makes you stop scowling, which directly relieves your depression as feedback from facial muscles regulates the brain.
"There are a series of patients who have paralyzed facial muscles, and they have problems feeling sad," Finzi said. "So, they may be able to think sad, but they can't feel sad."
Finzi originally recruited 10 women between the ages of 36 and 63, with a medical history of depression. The average period of depression in Finzi's subjects was 3.5 years, but one patient had been ill for 17 years and had not responded well to conventional treatments. Seven of the 10 had had little success while on anti-depressants, and none of the subjects had previously taken Botox.
All but one improved after Botox treatments.
"I'm not depressed," said Kathleen Delano, one of the trial subjects. "I have my days, but I would not consider myself a depressed person. I'm happy."
Finzi said one woman in the study felt the depression coming back about two months after the end of the study. After another round of injections, she improved. Therefore, Finzi said, it would be important to get injections about every three months, even before there were signs that the Botox was wearing off.
Still, experts warn Botox is not a cure for depression.
"Botox is not a miracle drug," said "Good Morning America" medical contributor Dr. David Katz said. "People should know this is a maintenance therapy, not a cure."
Botox has a wide range of medical applications and is used to alleviate the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, treat stroke victims' muscle spasms, to ease migraine, help people with Parkinson's disease control their movements, improve bladder function, and give relief for tennis elbow.
It may even help fight cancer. Researchers recently discovered Botox significantly boosted the effects of chemotherapy treatments, speeding up the destruction of tumor cells by increasing blood flow to the tumor.
Botox has only been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for a handful of medical uses, although several other uses show promise.
Both Katz and Finzi said more studies were necessary to test the effect of Botox on depression.