Health: Can You Really Botox the Blues Away?

Article excerpt

Byline: Jerry Adler and Karen Springen

Smooth the brow, brighten the eye ... " the pioneering psychologist William James wrote in 1890, describing a self-help technique for overcoming depression, "and your heart must be frigid indeed if it does not gradually thaw." In James's lifetime there was no easy way to follow this advice because Botox hadn't been invented. But today, smoothing the brow by paralyzing the corrugator supercilii muscles is the work of minutes--or so reasoned Eric Finzi, a dermatologist in Chevy Chase, Md. A few years ago Finzi got the idea of in-jecting botulinum toxin A--the compound marketed as Botox--into the foreheads of patients suffering major clinical depression. According to a paper published last week in the journal Dermatologic Surgery, it helped in nine out of 10 cases--nearly twice the success rate claimed for antidepressants.

That's despite the fact that it seems to make no sense. Frowning is an expression of an underlying emotional state. To cure depression by banishing frowning is like hoping to cure a cold by stifling a sneeze. But the body has its own logic, based largely on internal monitoring and feedback. To a surprising degree, the facial muscles control emotions, as well as the other way around. Patients with Mobius syndrome, a partial facial paralysis, seem not to experience emotions with the same intensity as normal people. "I thought if I could interrupt this cycle and prevent the frown, maybe a depressed patient would get better," says Finzi. …