New Study Uncovers Harmful Effects of Botox

A new study has discovered potential side effects that raise concerns about the safety of long-term Botox usage?

Credit: Flickr/Eddie Codel

Botox can travel and affect muscles in sites that are not even targeted

The anti-wrinkle treatment Botox has become a household name for its use in the quest for eternal youth. Now, research is raising concerns over Botox’s therapeutic use

In the therapeutic arena, purified botulinum toxin, or Botox, is widely used to treat many medical conditions involving painful muscular contractions, such as those that can occur after a stroke, in cerebral palsy or other neuromuscular conditions, in the remodelling of club feet, or to treat excessive sweating or even migraines. 

New research by Dr. Walter Herzog and colleagues at the University of Calgary says that Botox, when used therapeutically, is more difficult to control than previously expected. 

“Botox has the possibility to travel over time to far removed sites and affect muscles in sites that are not even targeted,” says Dr. Herzog. “Within 34 hours, we saw the Botox travelled.”

Botox Travels

Researchers saw muscles weakening even in areas far from the injection site. Rabbits injected with doses approximating those given to children to treat muscle spasms (per kilogram body weight) demonstrated muscle weakening and atrophy after six months. 

“If you look at those muscles, they are way smaller than normal muscle and the structure is compromised,” says Rafael Fortuna, the study’s lead author.

The researchers say their findings raise questions about the long-term therapeutic use of the toxin in children and adolescents and whether the same effect could also occur with cosmetic use. 

“The cosmetic industry uses exactly the same Botox we used and so there is reason to believe that if you have cosmetic injections in facial muscles, you could also have the same effects,” says Dr. Herzog.

Different for Cosmetic Botox?

Cosmetic dermatologic surgeons disagree, however.

“I think it enhances our understanding of how Botox works in rabbits; its relevance to humans is still questionable,” says Vancouver’s Dr. Alastair Carruthers, who has used Botox cosmetically on patients for more than 25 years and claims he has never had a patient experience the side effects noted by the Calgary researchers. 

“The doses in this study are maybe 10 times the dose that I would use cosmetically,” he says. “Cosmetic use is tiny doses.” Moreover, the rabbits were injected on a monthly basis, whereas cosmetic use typically involves injections every four to six months. 

Still, in high-dose injections, Dr. Carruthers states that Botox is known to show some spread of toxin in humans. That’s why it’s critical to be treated by very experienced practitioners who are aware of potential rare complications. 

But Dr. Herzog and Dr. Carruthers agree on one point — that the current research findings should not discourage the use of Botox because when used therapeutically, the benefits gained significantly outweigh the potential danger described in the study. 

Dr. Herzog and his colleagues will continue to research the long-term impact of the drug to see if the muscle changes they discovered are permanent.

Your Health with Dr. Rhonda Low airs weekdays during CTV News at Five and CTV News at Six.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.