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Why heat therapies could treat depression

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Depressed people have higher body temperatures—suggesting that heat therapies can help ease the problem.

The therapy forces the body to modulate to a lower core temperature, and this seems to relieve the symptoms.

Body heat is determined by the severity of the depression, and those with greater depression also had a higher body temperature, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco have discovered.

They analysed data from over 20,000 people with depression, who wore a device that measured body temperature, and reported on their depressive symptoms.

Although temperature has been linked to depression before, the researchers are the first to carry out a large-scale study that has also detected a ‘dose response’ link between levels of depression and body heat.

When people overcome their depression, their body temperature normalizes, the researchers found.

They suspect that inflammation could be playing a part in causing depression, and which also drives body heat.

Instead of using antidepressants, people could ease their depression with therapies that temporarily raise body temperature, such as hot yoga, hyperthermic baths and infrared saunas.  Whole-body hyperthermia, which slightly raises body temperature, could also help.

Jane Witt, who is the UK’s first thermal instructor and runs the Saltwater Sauna in Poole, Dorset, describes the study as “ground-breaking.”

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Scientific Reports, 2024; 14: 1884
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