A few days ago, I posted about Botox, and in the comments section a recent Journal of Neuroscience study that’s received attention was referenced. The media pounced on this study…however, certain details have been magnified and others minimized for the sake of sensationalism, er, information. This blog lays out the crucial information; I had to reread it about seventy-five times to process, but the gist is below:
Botox is the market name for a type of botulinum toxin (botulinum toxin type A) made by Allergan. Others exist, like Myobloc—Botox is simply the most popular. Botox et al. aim to paralyze facial muscles, stopping movement; you already know this. To move muscles, your nerves release a neurotransmitter (acetylcholine, but let’s just call it Susan) that sends signals to the brain. There’s a critical molecule in this process, necessary to make Susan do her signaling thing; let’s call this molecule—SNAP-25—Larry. (Hey, why not?) Botox alters Larry, stopping him from releasing the muscle-moving Susan. (God, I already have a headache just rereading this.)
This recent study did not measure levels of Botox; levels of Botox after injections are so minute and hard-to-detect that the study had to measure Larry, instead. What the study actually found was that altered versions of Larry affected by the Botox moved back and forth between Susan’s homebase and neurons controlling whisker movement (lab rats, I remind you). The Botox itself was not measured.
All of the hullabaloo is resulting because this study discredits (or strongly appears to discredit!) Allergan and the FDA’s earlier claims that botulinium toxin type A was completely broken down once injected. It now appears that traces remain–minimal, but there all the same. Does the study prove that the Botox “poison” seeps into your brain? No, it does not. It does, however, proves that traces of Larry are found and altered in the brain as a result of Botox injections. And, yes, I do think that’s troubling.
Here’s my take on Larry versus Botox: it’s a small distinction, but a crucial one. In science, “God” is in the details, after all. To be fair, this study not only piqued my interest but gave me serious pause; I now have my ear firmly to the ground, waiting to hear further results. I’m not, nor have I ever been, an alarmist—it’s simply not in my nature. (I’m open-minded and fact-weighing to a fault; call it my Libra rising!) Will I stop using Botox based upon this one study? No, I admit—I will not. Will I stop using Botox if conclusive evidence comes to light showing that all users are at a statistically significant risk of (insert terrible medical horror here)? You bet your ass (and all your frown lines!)