In the early-mid 1700s Germans saw an outbreak of a mysterious condition that caused weakness and paralysis of the lower extremities. A German physician-scientist, Dr. John Muller, traced the disease back to the consumption of bad sausages. More specifically, a bacteria in the meat that produced a strong neurotoxin! Muller named this newly discovered disease botulism, after the latin word botulus, meaning sausage (Ontario Ministry of Health, 2016).
Overtime, the increase in sanitary practices has drastically reduced the number of botulism cases doctors see each year (CDC, 2019). That being said, the potent neurotoxin responsible for the condition has found its way into modern medicine. Botulinum Toxin or Botox is currently used for both cosmetic enhancement and the treatment of chronic migraines (Mayo Clinic, 2021)!
So how exactly does a neurotoxin help a neurological condition like chronic migraines? Well, once injected, the botulinum toxin travels to the spaces between brain cells, the synapses. Once there, the toxin disrupts the neuron’s ability to release neurotransmitter signals and neuropeptides and prevents the neuron from expressing pain receptors (Burstein et al., 2020).
How effective is a Botox treatment? For the purposes of this discussion we can imagine a migraine as a severe headache (however there are significant differences between migraines and headaches; If you would like to learn more about this check out our previous article). Botox injections into the head, jaw, and neck have been shown to be a moderate prophylactic, or preventative treatment, for chronic migraines, reducing both the frequency and severity of the episodes (Escher et al., 2016; Herd et al, 2018; Rizzoli, 2019). It is important to note that this treatment is somewhat invasive and really only reserved for people who experience 15 or more migraines per month (Rizzoli, 2019). If you or a loved one suffers from chronic migraines, Botox treatments can be a useful tool in your arsenal against chronic pain. If you think Botox may be a meaningful treatment option, I encourage you to discuss it with your neurologist!