Botox injections interfere with somatic response

| 30 Comments

Lean back in your chair, fold your hands on your stomach, close your eyes, and smile. Now try to think of some incident that really made you furious. Probably you can’t do it, unless you erase that smile and frown. Alternatively, knot your fists, frown, and try to imagine an incident that made you extremely happy. You will probably start to smile or else not maintain the image.

Or try this: Think of a high-pitched beeeeeeep. You will probably feel your vocal cords contract to match the pitch. Now think of a low pitched BEEEEEEEP, and your vocal chords will relax to match that pitch.

These are examples of what the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio calls the somatic (bodily) response – in possibly oversimplified terms, you cannot feel an emotion unless, as Damasio says, you can literally feel it, if not in your gut, then in your body.

Thus, it was no surprise to me to read in the LA Times that injections of Botox in a certain muscle involved in frowning slowed people’s ability to comprehend “negative emotional language.” In short, if you cannot frown, then your ability to understand emotions that would cause frowning is diminished. When I read the article, I thought I got some idea of how Thomas Huxley felt when he read about Darwin’s conception of natural selection.

Researchers led by psychology graduate student David Havas at the University of Wisconsin–Madison asked 40 women who were awaiting Botox injections to read certain sentences on a computer and press a key when they thought they understood each sentence. The women were retested after their Botox injections and were significantly slower to understand sentences that conveyed negative emotions but not sentences that conveyed positive emotions. There was no indication that the women responded to positive emotions faster after the injections, but the researchers administered a mood-analysis test to confirm that the women were not generally happier after the injections. The result is consistent with other experiments that relate processing of emotionally charged information with facial expression, as described in the LA Times article.

30 Comments

That’s really interesting. I was just talking to a guy who is a telemarketer. He says he really is required to dress up in a white shirt and tie look because they have found that the employees are more likely to treat customers with respect if they dress down dress down.

So through Botox, dress, etc… it would seem if you can physically impair certain emotions from happening.

Joseph Smidt said:

That’s really interesting. I was just talking to a guy who is a telemarketer. He says he really is required to dress up in a white shirt and tie look because they have found that the employees are more likely to treat customers with respect if they dress down dress down.

So through Botox, dress, etc… it would seem if you can physically impair certain emotions from happening.

Well, they say to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.…I wonder if a smoking jacket and silk pajamas would go over well in lab.

I would assume that the writer is talking about cosmetic uses of Botox. If, as in my case, the Botox is administered to calm the nerves involved in Benign Essential Blepharospasm, a dystonia of facial nerves which I personally and a small group of other individuals I know of suffer from, it’s not necessary to imagine negative emotions since the condtion is characterized by deep frustration, anger, partial blindness, fear of permanent damage, and inability to explain to loved ones what on Earth is going on.

To get the full story, jump over to www.blepharospasm.org and check out their bulletin board, where I can be found daily. Perhaps this will help.

— Lynn

Yes, the injections were cosmetic, according to the article. I am sure that Botox is a godsend to people with blepharospasm and many other conditions, but I imagine they would have ruled such patients out of the study.

Botox is also used in treating spasmodic dysphonia.

What frustrates me is thinking of the people for whom this will naturally follow as a consequence of Botox use, not so much for the scientific reasons but because Botox Bad. You know what I mean?

I mean, I certainly find it to be a weird decision for people to make, sacrificing a range of facial expression to prevent wrinkles, but whatever floats your boat.

This finding is something that follows logically from the physical effects of the stuff; it’s not some kind of karmic punishment for Those Awful Superficial Celebs.

… Botox Bad …

Well, yes, Botulinum Toxin is the second (behind Plutonium) most toxic stuff on Earth, so please don’t go around experimenting with it out of curiosity.

In addition to BEB and spasmodic dysphonia, Botox is used against nearly all of the dystonias. Its effects are not permanent unless overdosed (which can be lethal).

— Lynn

In fact, there is an even stronger claim in the literature, that cosmetic Botox therapy may actually be associated with more positive mood. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19250162 I did not read the actual paper. The control group consisted of people who had undergone non-Botox cosmetic treatments. That is reasonable but also creates some potential confounding variables.

However, the idea that facial expression can serve not only as a marker of emotion, but also as a source of feeback that affects mood or emotional state, is quite reasonable.

Lynn Y said: Well, yes, Botulinum Toxin is the second (behind Plutonium) most toxic stuff on Earth, so please don’t go around experimenting with it out of curiosity.

Okay, OT but statements like this really get my goat.

While both are certainly very bad for your health, this is the sort of over-the-top generalization good scientists should stay away from. PT posters (me included) complain often about how the press misrepresents science - using language like ‘missing link,’ etc… But, this is the same thing. Such exaggerated/melodramatic generalizations contribute to the problem of public distrust of science for practically no social benefit. Miseducation - even in the attempted service of public health - is still miseducation.

/rant

eric -

Botulinum toxin is, indeed, very dangerous at fairly low doses, if used improperly. Modern public health and food preparation regulations have reduced the toll. Accidental death due to food contamination used to be quite common. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botox.

A lot of valuable medical substances are also very dangerous. Some, like botox and tubocurarine (not used much anymore, but was until recently) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tubocurarine were discovered as toxins first and used precisely because of their toxic properties.

Valuable medicine when properly used/deadly toxin when improperly used. Many things fit in that category.

harold said:

Botulinum toxin is, indeed, very dangerous at fairly low doses, if used improperly.

Or properly, depending on the intent. It’s actually a fairly common biowarfare agent.

Eric, before you rant about the spreading of exaggerated information, it might be a good idea to check first whether the information is actually exaggerated.

The only thing debatable about the statement is saying plutonium is more toxic then botox. The sources I checked say otherwise.

Antonio Damasio is an interesting fellow. He studies emotions from the bottom up—that is, starting with neurobiology. He is an engaging writer for the public as well as for scholars.

Matt linked to his first popular book, Descartes’ Error. All of his books are worth a careful read. A new one, Self Comes to Mind, will be published in November. It addresses the biological basis and evolutionary history of consciousness.

JT said:

Eric, before you rant about the spreading of exaggerated information, it might be a good idea to check first whether the information is actually exaggerated.

The only thing debatable about the statement is saying plutonium is more toxic then botox. The sources I checked say otherwise.

I debate the statement that Pu is the most toxic substance on earth. Its factually wrong - many many other substances will kill you faster on a per mg basis, via either ingestion or inhalation.

But the factual wrongness is only part of it. What bothers me is this is polemic rather than a scientific statement. It was coined by Nader to scare people about nuclear power. He did not, Harold, want to educate people about how Pu could be dangerous when used unsafely. He wanted to convince people that it couldn’t be used safely at all. Its exactly the sort of grossly misleading hype scientists should be fighting against.

Harold, you’re absolutely right that a lot of things fit into the ‘safe when used properly/unsafe when not’ category. That subtle point is being lost with statement like this. The loss might not be malicious, but the message was intentionally crafted to make a sale (here, sell an ideology), rather than give accurate scientific information. And that’s why I compare it to “missing link.”

Mike Elzinga said:

Botox is also used in treating spasmodic dysphonia.

I don’t have time to look it up right now, but there was a report a few years ago (?) that folks who got botox got fewer migraines.

MrG said:

harold said:

Botulinum toxin is, indeed, very dangerous at fairly low doses, if used improperly.

Or properly, depending on the intent. It’s actually a fairly common biowarfare agent.

“Nuclear weapons can annihilate all life on Earth, if used correctly.” – David Byrne.

Paul Burnett said:

Mike Elzinga said:

Botox is also used in treating spasmodic dysphonia.

I don’t have time to look it up right now, but there was a report a few years ago (?) that folks who got botox got fewer migraines.

Yikes!

Where do they inject the botox?

fnxtr said:

“Nuclear weapons can annihilate all life on Earth, if used correctly.” – David Byrne.

The tale I heard is that you could hand-carry a package of botox adequate to kill every human on the planet – if properly apportioned and administered.

MrG -

The tale I heard is that you could hand-carry a package of botox adequate to kill every human on the planet – if properly apportioned and administered.

Hypothetically, that seems to be true. Based on the numbers from Wikipedia and assuming 7 billion people on earth, with a mean human mass of 50 kg (which is probably an overestimate of human biomass on both factors), if perfectly administered, it would take at most 17.5 kg, or 38.5 pounds, of pure Botox to kill every man, woman and child on earth (*assuming at least one potentially breeding couple doesn’t have some kind of untested resistance to the stuff which could be selected for*). I believe the postal union allows employees to lift boxes weighing up to 35 pounds, and is somewhat flexible about mildly overweight packages. And it could actually be less. Yes, I realize these numbers are very approximate. Still, a champion powerlifter could deadlift enough Botox (if packaged properly) to, in theory, wipe out human life on earth twenty-five or more times over.

Occasionally, pathogenic bacteria produce very powerful toxins. Human botulism fatalities are probably “caught in the crossfire”. Whereas cholera toxin, for example, is probably “intended for use” against mammalian hosts (because the horrific diarrhea it produces often puts more cholera bacteria into the drinking water), human botulism doesn’t spread Clostridia infections in an obvious way. It probably evolved to protect the spores from some microbial predator, but when humans developed sausage-making, canning, and so on, they bumped into it.

Fortunately, a dispersed aerosol is probably an inefficient way to intoxicate people, and as far as I know, no-one has ever actually used the stuff. It would also be a relatively painless death when compared to what WWI troops got gassed with, for whatever that’s worth.

None of this is any argument against legitimate medical use, as culturing the appropriate bacteria and purifying the toxin would be fairly simple for anyone anyway.

MrG said: The tale I heard is that you could hand-carry a package of botox adequate to kill every human on the planet – if properly apportioned and administered.

Yes, but so what? “Properly administered” your empty hand is adequate to kill every human on the planet - that statement is therefore true regardless of whats in the package. And guess what - the chances of the botox statement and the empty hand statement being relevant to real life are about equal, and close to zero. Statements like these are more fright theater than they are educational.

harold said:

Fortunately, a dispersed aerosol is probably an inefficient way to intoxicate people, and as far as I know, no-one has ever actually used the stuff.

Exactly how botox was ever supposed to be used as a weapon is somewhat unclear to me – I would guess dispersed by a warhead as aerial dust. According to the UNSCOM monitoring team (NOT the Bush II Administration), the Iraqis admitted to producing 19,000 liters of the stuff. What advantages it might have had over nerve gases, also lethal in low concentrations, I have no idea.

Bioweapons can be a very odd subject. Why, for example, weaponize tularemia (rabbit fever) and psittacosis (parrot fever)? They do infect humans of course, but on the face of it they hardly sound like obvious candidates for military use.

MrG -

I was curious about whether anyone had ever used it, and how, but perhaps for understandable reasons, that information was not easily available.

Although it is a peptide produced by a bacteria, I would say that it is more of a chemical or biochemical weapon, strictly speaking, as it would have the same effect whether produced by bacteria or synthesized, and the effect has nothing to do with active infection. However, it may be defined as “biological” for legalistic reasons in treaties.

The toxin is a peptide but is relatively resistant to degradation (after all, it usually passes through the digestive tract before poisoning people).

In the case of a more definitively “biological” weapon the objective is to spread active infection. Implicitly, sometimes infections may be intended to be disabling rather than outright fatal. The agents are presumably chosen mainly because they can theoretically be mass-delivered in a way that would make a lot of people sick quickly (i.e. they also have short latencies to sympotomology).

Far more worrisome to me, from a pragmatic perspective, is potential forensic use. As a pathologist, I can see how one would need a good index of suspicion. This report (of a tragic mass accidental poisoning case) indicates that the toxin can be detected relatively long post-mortem, when it is thought of. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/407469. A healthy individual would usually live long enough to complain of typical botulism symptoms if medical attention were available, too. Still, moderately worrisome.

eric -

I think there is an apples and oranges situation here.

I believe that medical use of botox is beneficial and produces no significant threat to anyone. A vast number of useful medications are very harmful when used improperly. I mentioned above that botox therapy is, in fact, proven statistically to be very safe. Likewise, given how many other deadly things there are, its use clearly does not create any significant incremental security risk to society.

Having said that, it also has interesting properties. As both a potentially very common and dangerous environmental toxin, and simultaneously a valuable medicine, it is worthwhile to discuss and understand its properties, including its toxicity.

harold said:

However, it may be defined as “biological” for legalistic reasons in treaties.

Correct, I believe under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) botox and other biotoxins are classified as “bioagents” – likely because it just seems inappropriate to classify them as “chemical weapons” even though their tactical use is similar. However, *production* of biotoxins is more similar to production of pathogens, and since limitations treaties tend to focus on production systems, there is a logic to the connection.

I keep up with chemical-biowarfare issues – see http://www.vectorsite.net/twgas.html (needs some work) – and I don’t know of anyone using botox or other biotoxins operationally. There are cases of “spooks” using conotoxins and ricin for suicides or assassinations.

As far as true “biological” weapons go, anthrax is popular because the spores store so well and it’s so lethal, but the problem is that it’s comparably dangerous to handle and renders a target area unihabitable for decades. One of the popular bioagents was brucellosis, which isn’t particularly dangerous – it’ll make you sick as a dog for a week or two – but it’s very contagious and it doesn’t require a big warload to cause a lot of trouble for a short period of time.

MrG -

An interesting link. I was going to comment that other members of the Clostridia group of bacteria, such as C. perfrigens and C. tetani, among others, also produce rather nasty toxins.

These bacteria are anaerobes, with spores as part of their life cycle. They are virtually not “infectious” in the sense of common direct human to human spread. Instead, they are typically encountered in the environment on a more or less individual basis (counting multiple independent cases resulting from the same tainted food as “individual”).

It sounds like Botox might lead to substance-abuse:

1 of the excuses substance-abusers use is that they are so emotionally flat that they take substances just to feel anything.

And even worse – if we are going by weight – is chlorine gas. I believe a pound of it will kill many times the earth’s population.

Only offered for purposes of trivia. I am one of those who dislikes the use way the press/pressure groups use the term toxic.

Alex -

I am one of those who dislikes the use way the press/pressure groups use the term toxic.

Any rational, skeptical person dislikes misguided or self-serving hysteria, including the common misleading use of the term “toxic”. A good parody of that type of thing is found here - http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html

I did not interpret the comment of Lynn Y above in this way. I took her observation that the useful medication Botox is also a powerful toxin to be a perfectly sensible one; it is true of many medications, many of which are actually much more dangerous in therapeutic use, but Botox is what we are discussing here.

Botox therapy is very safe (but not riskless); that is not surprising, as it is applied locally in very small amounts, and not used systemically.

A criminal could use Botox to poison someone (by putting a sufficient amount in food or drink), but there would be a very good chance that the victim would be diagnosed with botulism pre- (ideally) or post-mortem. Although a peptide, botulinum toxin can be detected fairly long post-mortem, at least according to the study I linked above. For better or for worse, Botox is just one of many substances which are widely available and have the potential to be used in this way.

Once I had to use beta blockers. Then I viewed Ice Hockey World Championships on TV. It got strange reaction in me. Lack of heart rate increase;- “not so exciting”;- feeling lame. It was a little like being lame outsider instead of “insider” extreme excited viewer.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on June 1, 2010 11:41 AM.

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