PSA: Botox is a Neurotoxin + Other Important Things
Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Botox has surfaced in the mainstream. It’s become normalized- something to be proud of. We are living in a time where Botox is advertised on billboards, where Instagram handles such as @randomname_injector are flooding feeds, where even naturopathic doctors are administering it because it sells. Like the diet industry, the beauty industry is built off insecurities. It triggers the pain points of both women and men, hits our deepest fears and makes us believe that our worth is determined by our outer appearance. It makes us feel that in order to be loved and accepted we need to be forever youthful- and when injecting our faces with a chemical that is literally toxic to brain tissue is normalized, it’s gone too far.
Before I dive into why Botox is harmful and what to do instead, I would like to point out two facts:
1- Our skin reflects our overall health. Premature wrinkles, acne, cellulite, dry skin- these are signs that on a biological level, something needs attention.
2- Every single chronic disease is on the rise. Cancer, autoimmune conditions, metabolic diseases, neurodegenerative disease- you name it, we are in a health crisis.
With this in mind- let’s continue….
What causes wrinkles?
Fine lines and wrinkles are caused by the breakdown of collagen- which is the most abundant protein in the body. Collagen is not only responsible for the integrity of the skin, but it’s found in muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and blood vessels.
When collagen break down is greater than collagen synthesis- wrinkles appear. Numerous factors can upregulate the enzymes responsible for collagen degradation. Some classic examples are:
1) Sugar & chronically high blood sugar
2) Cortisol - the main stress hormone
3) Chemicals found in conventional skin care products (ironic or supply and demand?)
4) Lack of sleep
When wrinkles appear- that means that collagen is breaking down systemically, which has implications that extend far beyond esthetics. Collagen is not cosmetic. It's a structural protein and has huge implications that ripple throughout the entire body. When collagen is compromised it can affect our quality of life. How does Botox address this?
What is Botox?
First, Botox is an abbreviation. Its technical name is Botulinum Toxin Type A- it’s a pharmaceutical made from a toxic byproduct of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It’s a potent neurotoxin that is responsible for botulism, the lethal food poisoning. And yup, a worldwide trend has us injecting this into our bodies to perpetuate beauty standards.
Botox is paralytic. Without getting to technical, it works by inhibiting the release of an important neurotransmitter- which blocks nerve function, resulting in muscle paralysis. We don’t experience botulism when getting Botox injections because it’s massively diluted- but just because it’s not life threatening, doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful.
Botox was once thought to stay in the peripheral nervous system- at the sight of injection. Since this trend has gone global, researchers all around the world have begun to study the side effects of Botox. The main finding I want to address is that Botox does not stay at the site of injection- it migrates into the central nervous system, which means it effects the brain and the spinal cord. This is concerning because neurogenerative diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are on the rise- yet millions of people are willing to inject a central nervous system toxin for the temporary effect of a tighter face. Confused. My biased opinion aside, here is the science….
The science on the long-term effects of Botox is still in the preliminary stages. However, the data gathered from short-term studies is significant enough to raise several red flags around the use of Botox for cosmetic purposes.
Researchers from the University of Zurich did a study to assess brain function in relation to Botox. They measured electrical impulses to the brain before and after treatment. They found that facial nerves exposed to Botox aren’t able to transmit signals to the brain as effectively- and thus the area of the brain has decreased activity. This study also surprisingly showed that Botox alters the way the brain responds to touch and it rearranges the sensory map of the hands. It’s too early to understand the long-term and clinical effects of this, but more research is currently underway.
Another study out of Queensland has mapped out the pathway Botox takes to go from the peripheral to central nervous system. They also showed that the toxin harms neighboring cells. In a recent review, scientists say that the effects of Botox are being seen at distant sites throughout the body, including the spinal cord circuit, the brainstem and the sensorimotor cortex.
Perhaps more disturbing than the physiological effects of Botox is the emotional repercussions. One study found that people with Botox are unable to mimic the facial expressions of others (not surprising). This is alarming because the inability to mirror others takes away a degree of empathy. Part of how we conceptualize how others are feeling, relate to them and feel empathy is by mirroring facial expressions. Basically, Botox interferes with facial feedback that helps us perceive emotion. Which, if you ask me- is terrifying (hello, Stepford Wives)
The take away from these studies is that Botox exerts effects in the central nervous system, it compromises brain circuitry (thank goodness for neuroplasticity, amiright?) and it has negative implications when it comes to our emotions and connecting to others.
The take away from this whole post, is that Botox is a band aid solution that does not address the underlying problem of why wrinkles occur in the first place. In addition to this, it has the potential to increase risk for chronic disease and inhibit human connection. Diet and lifestyle modifications can go a long way in helping the body age functionally- and having great skin is a side effect- not the goal.
My goal in writing this is not to pass judgment on others decisions. It’s simply to give people the tools to make informed choices regarding their bodies and health.
Botox is not the issue, it’s a symptom of a larger societal problem. The Botox problem invites us to ask why we are on the quest for enteral youth, and how we got so disconnected from nature. Aging is a beautiful privilege- the mother, maiden and crone all have their power and their wisdom and it’s a shame that modern society doesn’t recognize that anymore.
If you get or are considering Botox, I invite you to investigate why.
I personally do everything I can to age well, naturally of course. And not so my wrinkles don’t deepen, but so decades from now I can reminisce on a wonderful life, while planning new adventures- with a sharp mind, working body and no medications- Giving the same fucks about my wrinkles then as I do now.
PS- did you know I'm launching a holistic skin care program January 2020? Click here to get on the list!
Weise, D., Weise, C. M., & Naumann, M. (2019). Central Effects of Botulinum Neurotoxin-Evidence from Human Studies. Toxins, 11(1), 21. doi:10.3390/toxins11010021
Haenzi, S., Stefanics, G., Lanaras, T., Calcagni, M., & Ghosh, A. (2014). Altered cortical activation from the hand after facial botulinum toxin treatment. Annals of clinical and translational neurology, 1(1), 64–68. doi:10.1002/acn3.21
Altered cortical activation from the hand after botulinum toxin treatment." Ann Clin Translational Neurol 2014, 1:64-68