Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Botox: Poison or Panacea
"Can you steal some for me?" asked my 81-year-old grandmother when she heard I was reporting on Botox. It's a hot commodity even to my old-fashioned granny who has never driven a car nor touched a computer in her life. "It's like magic," she said.
Apparently, she's not alone in her lust and awe. Using the substance for facial lines is this country's most popular cosmetic procedure, according to the latest numbers from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. In just five years, the number of aesthetic procedures has quintupled.
As more people use Botox as the ultimate wrinkle remover, doctors are realizing that its benefits delve far deeper than the skin.
Here's a brief science lesson: Botox is a brand name for botulinum toxin type a. It's produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. In its purest form, botulinum is one of the deadliest poisons known to humans. It can cause death by paralysis.
In 1989, long before physicians injected Botox into faces, the FDA approved it for patients with debilitating neurological diseases such as dystonia. In these conditions, faulty connections between brain and muscle cause parts of the body to spasm. Muscles are locked into uncomfortable, often excruciating, positions.
Amazingly, Botox liberated many of these patients by temporarily cutting the connection between overactive neurons and muscle, allowing the body to relax a bit. On a basic level, that is what's happening with Botox for wrinkles -- the muscle is loosening its grip on facial skin.
This ability to block the muscle trigger led researchers to use Botox for a whole host of other conditions. It's FDA-approved for excessive sweating due to overactive sweat glands. It is used off-label to treat multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, anal fissures, tension headaches and migraines.
In our report airing today and tomorrow, Dr. Gupta will show you Botox's benefits to stroke patients. Up to four in 10 stroke survivors suffer from spastic disability. You may recognize it as stiffness on one side of the body, often seen in a club-like hand or foot. These people lose their independence--the ability to wash themselves, to eat, and even walk.
We'll show you how Botox has been used for years in these stroke patients in combination with physical therapy. It allows some to regain mobility and muscle function.
It's not a cure-all. It does have minor side effects, and more studies need to be done on long-term use. But it's huge news for people like my uncle who just suffered from a stroke. It can give them motivation to get better and their families hope.
So, what did my granny say after I finished my spiel about the possible wonders of Botox? "See. I told you...it's magic. Now, try to steal two bottles. One for me. One for your uncle."
Now, what do you think? Whether it's for cosmetic or other purposes, it's still a poison. Would you want to use Botox?
Botox is a trademark of Allergan.
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• Testing for Down syndrome - Do you want to know?
• Happy New Year
• Toning up with Technology
• The impact of autism
• Remembering President Ford
• How do I get people to care about obesity?
• "The Godfather of Soul" was at risk for pneumonia
• Alzheimer's advances
• Would you buy immortality?
• Solving your medical mysteries