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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Botox may be a common cosmetic treatment for removing wrinkles, but a new study finds it may also improve some patients’ mental health. Researchers from the University of California-San Diego found that Botox injections may have the ability to reduce levels of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.

What is Botox?

Botox, or Botulinum toxin, is a medication that doctors create using a bacterial toxin. Its most common purpose is for easing the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin, especially around the face. However, people also use these treatments for a variety of conditions in a variety of body parts, including migraines, muscle spasms, excessive sweating, and incontinence.

Previous studies have even found that Botox injections may hold the key to a new line of treatment for severe neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

The new study reviewed the after-effects of Botox injections among nearly 40,000 people undergoing the procedure for several different reasons. Study authors discovered that injections into four different sites in the body led to significantly fewer cases of anxiety in comparison to patients using different (non-Botox) treatments for the same conditions.

“A large number of diverse adverse effects are being reported to the FDA and the main objective usually is to find those harmful side effects that had not been identified during clinical trials,” says Dr. Ruben Abagyan, a UCSD professor of pharmacy, in a university release. “However, our idea was different. Why don’t we do the opposite? Why don’t we find beneficial effects?”

Abagyan and researchers examined a U.S. Food and Drug Administration database, looking for patients reporting fewer instances of anxiety after having Botox injections. The team them created a mathematical algorithm to scan for differences between Botox users and patients using other treatments.

Results show reports of anxiety dropped by 22 to 72 percent among Botox users receiving injections for four of eight conditions. These include injections into the facial muscles for wrinkles, the facial and head muscles for migraines, the upper and lower limbs for spasms, and the neck muscles for torticollis — a condition causing the head to twist at an odd angle.

Current anxiety treatments don’t always work

Researchers note that anxiety-related issues are the most common type of mental health disorders. According to the National Comorbidity Survey from 2003, one in three people in the United States feel the effects of anxiety at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, treatments for anxiety don’t work for a third of these individuals.

In the new study, researchers only looked at subset of Botox users who reported some negative side-effects from their injections. The team also excluded patients taking antidepressants and anxiety medications at the time of their treatment. Study authors do note that the number of people taking over the counter medications may be underrepresented in their report.

Despite the limitations of the sample size, Abagyan says the findings reveal a similar link that a July 2020 study found between Botox injections and cases of depression. Both reports discovered a decrease in mental health symptoms regardless of where in the body patients had their injections. The team adds this likely disproves the thought that Botox only lowered depression rates because patients were happy about having fewer wrinkles on their face.

What’s causing this mental health benefit?

Scientists believe Botulinum toxins may be moving from the injection sites to areas of the central nervous system that control mood and emotions. Another theory is that neuromuscular links, which Botox interact with, directly communicate with the brain.

Lastly, with Botox being a common treatment for conditions which cause anxiety, patients may feel better because their underlying issues are gone. The team is now examining which injection sites produce the best results when it comes to treating mental health conditions.

The findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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