Is Maria's Story Proof Botox Can Make You Depressed? as Research Reveals the Anti-Ageing Drug Could Be Freezing Our Emotions along with Our Wrinkles

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Byline: by Claire Coleman

WHEN 41-year-old Maria Bajo first went for Botox injections four years ago, she was hoping -- like most who get the treatment -- to look more youthful afterwards.

'I'm a fitness instructor and I was making a fitness DVD with a colleague,' says Maria. 'I hated the lines I saw on my face. I thought Botox would be a quick and easy way to get rid of them.' But while the injections, which cost [euro]180 a time, did smooth away the lines, Maria was left with another problem.

'I am a very strong, positive person, but I quickly began to feel depressed. I couldn't raise my eyebrows and my face was an expressionless blank which didn't reflect my normally sunny personality.

If you can't smile properly and your face feels frozen, you don't just look unhappy -- it makes you feel miserable too.' While many devotees and needlewielding doctors might scoff, a new study suggests she is not the only one who's suffering in this way.

At a conference earlier this month, psychologist Dr Michael Lewis of Cardiff University presented research that showed many women who have Botox to get rid of laughter lines can feel the way Maria did -- depressed, because they are no longer able to smile properly.

Generally we assume that our facial expressions reflect rather than direct our emotions, but it's more complicated than that. 'The expressions we make on our face affect the emotions we feel. We smile because we're happy, but the act of smiling itself also makes us happy,' explains Dr Lewis.

His findings are the latest to suggest that the world's favourite anti-ageing drug could be doing more than simply freezing our facial muscles -- it could be changing the way we think and feel.

Botox is in fact a brand name that has become shorthand for botulinum toxin, but it's just one of several brands which are available to the thousands prepared to pay upwards of [euro]180 a time for injections every three to six months.

Jennifer Aniston has admitted to using Botox once but said she didn't like the 'hard effect' that it had. While she was talking about physical results, is it possible it has psychological results too? It might seem unlikely that paralysing the muscles in our face can affect our brain, but the idea that facial expressions can influence emotions is a recognised psychological phenomenon.

The 'facial feedback mechanism' was identified in 1988 by psychologists who showed that people who held a pen in their teeth in a position that used the same muscles as smiling found a cartoon more amusing than those who held a pen in their lips in a way that stopped them from smiling.

The theory is that drugs that prevent us from being able to make particular facial expressions interfere with the messages that go back and forth between the face and the brain.

The result? We struggle to feel the things that we'd normally feel when making that facial expression.

Dr Lewis is not the first to suggest that Botox could have a role to play in mental health. Over the past few years a growing number of doctors have suggested that Botox could be used as an anti-depressant.

The theory is based on the same facial feedback mechanism, but proponents argue that if you paralyse only the muscles involved in frowning, and not those involved in smiling or laughing, you can prevent people from feeling sad.

In a new book, The Face Of Emotion -- How Botox Affects Our Moods And Relationships, US dermatologist Dr Eric Finzi explores this idea. 'My theory is that by preventing the physical action of frowning, we interrupt this feedback loop and reduce the number of negative messages the brain is receiving, creating a more positive outlook,' he says.

He makes it sound so simple -- stick to paralysing frown lines on the forehead, leave laughter lines around the eyes alone, and you'll not only look younger, you'll also feel happier. …