Botox -- Health Benefits and Dangers
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Botox -- Health Benefits and Dangers

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December 13, 2011

By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Celebrities swear by it to deliver wrinkle-free red carpet perfection. And everyday women (and men) are increasingly paying hundreds of dollars to wave goodbye to crow's feet and say hello to smooth skin. But could Botox injections - the reported wonder-procedure introduced in 1989 said to get rid of facial lines - be causing more harm than good?

Madonna, Kylie, J.Lo, Nicole Kidman, Kim Kardashian... it seems like everyone is going under the needle. Botox injections aren't only for celebrities, either.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were 5,379,360 Botox procedures in 2010 - a 12 percent rise since 2009. Since 2000 we've been going Botox-crazy. There's been a massive 584% increase in Botox procedures since the year 2000.

Men are also getting in on the action - the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported a 9% rise in men's Botox procedures from 2009 to 2010. But is Botox beneficial across the board? Are there risks and side effects associated with Botox injections? Is Botox safe?

What is Botox?

Botox (a registered drug marketed by the company Allergan, Inc) is a substance created from botulinum toxin, one of the most poisonous bacteria we know. Botox in its friendly form is one of the most popular non-invasive cosmetic procedures in the world - it is Allergan's top-selling drug, taking $1.42 billion in sales in 2010.

Botox injections are used cosmetically to reduce facial wrinkles and minimize frown lines, crow's feet, furrows and skin bands on the neck. Any facial movement you make will eventually lead to wrinkling in the skin and as we get older, we increasingly notice these signs of aging.

Botox injected into the muscles of the face blocks signals from the muscular nerves, which leads to a weakening and temporary paralysis in the muscle so it doesn't contract and cause facial wrinkles.

What are the Benefits of Botox?

Botox was licensed in 2002 for the temporary treatment of frown lines between the brows, and it is this wrinkle-reducing power that is one of its most obvious benefits.

A 2006 report by Carruthers et al at the American Academy of Dermatology Academy '06 meeting in San Diego looking at multiple sources found that most patients report looking on average five to six years younger after they receive Botox injections. It's worth noting that this study was funded by an unrestricted grant from Botox-maker Allergan, Inc, but Botox is seen by many to be a good solution to facial lines and wrinkles.

However, researchers have revealed Botox to be a highly versatile drug. Wrinkle-busting is not its only power.

Botox for Bladder Control, Headaches, Hay fever, Tremors and Sweating

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Botox injections for treating individuals with urinary incontinence resulting from spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and other neurologic conditions - a 2008 study from H˘pital Sainte Marguerite, Marseille, France among others attests to this benefit. When the substance is injected into the bladder, the bladder relaxes and is better able to store urine, leading to fewer incidences of incontinence.

Could Botox be beneficial for headaches? Many experts think so. The US Food and Drug Administration approved Botox in 2010 for the prevention of headaches in adults suffering from chronic migraine.

A 2011 study from the University of Granada found that injecting Botox into certain trigger points in the neck muscles reduced the frequency of migraines in sufferers. The 25 patients were injected with doses of Botox into the trigger points over three months. Side effects were found to be mild and unobtrusive.

In 2010 the Food and Drug Administration approved Botox for another medical use - to treat spasticity in the muscles of the wrist, elbow or finger following stroke, brain injury and multiple sclerosis.

Botox blocks the connection between nerve and muscle, relaxing the muscle and preventing spasm. A 2001 study from the Kansas City Bone and Joint Clinic and The Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City showed the drug was useful in treating upper limb spasms in post-stroke patients.

What about one of the most annoying and common condition a lot of us suffer from? Botox can apparently help treat hay fever, otherwise known as intrinsic or allergic rhinitis.

A 2011 study from Laryngologicznej Uniwersytetu Medycznego im, Poland found Botox injections for intrinsic rhinitis was an effective method for controlling symptoms.

Research in 2009 from the University Medical Center G÷ttingen, Germany found sponges soaked in Botox and inserted into the nostril were even more effective than injections of Botox in reducing the symptoms of hay fever. (Read more about natural remedies for tree pollen allergies and grass pollen allergies. )

And one more health benefit from Botox - curbing excessive sweating. A 2008 study from Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, Philadelphia found injections of Botox helped control plantar hyperhidrosis - excessive and uncontrollable sweating on the hands.

Botox Makes You Happy!

According to recent research, the health benefits of Botox are not limited to physical conditions and diseases. It seems Botox can make you happier. How does it work?

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin say when you can't frown, the brain doesn't receive the sensation of the frown and consequently feels there is less to frown about - making you happier, even when you felt like frowning in the first place.

The 2010 study for the US Association for Psychological Science stated that blocking the body's movements can have an effect on emotion, disrupting the loop causing sadness.

And a 2008 study by the University of Illinois Chicago showed that Botox treatment improved first impressions and influenced whether a person was thought to be attractive, athletically successful and successful in dating.

Psychological Dangers of Botox

But many people, according to experts, are asking for Botox for the wrong reasons and falsely believe it will cure all their troubles. A 2001 study from the Clinic for Skin Diseases, Erfurt, Germany found that almost 25% of patients at the clinic asking for Botox had body dysmorphic disorder - a condition that makes people believe they look different, or less attractive, than they actually are. This condition would be better treated with psychotherapy than with expensive Botox injections.

A 2011 study from University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina also revealed a social and psychological danger in using Botox.

When you have Botox injections, your ability to read emotions in other people is diminished. One way we read the feelings and emotions of others is by mimicking their facial expressions and the feedback from our muscles to our brains helps us know which emotions the other person is expressing. With Botox, we cannot fully mimic expressions because our muscles have been "frozen", and this means we are less able to predict or tell the emotions of others.

Physical Health Dangers of Botox

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