Depression Linked to Higher Body Temperatures

Summary: A new study suggests a novel link between depression and higher body temperatures, analyzing data from over 20,000 participants worldwide. While the causal relationship remains unclear, findings indicate that body temperature increases with the severity of depression symptoms, offering a potential new avenue for treatment.

The research, leveraging wearable technology for temperature measurement, hints at the benefits of heat-based treatments like saunas for depression, potentially by inducing the body to lower temperatures through mechanisms like sweating. This study opens the door to exploring temperature regulation as a therapeutic strategy for depression, highlighting an innovative approach to addressing rising depression rates globally.

Key Facts:

  1. The study observed a correlation between increased depression symptom severity and higher body temperatures in participants from 106 countries.
  2. It explored the potential of heat-based treatments (e.g., saunas) to reduce depression by triggering the body’s natural cooling responses.
  3. This research is one of the largest to examine the association between body temperature and depression symptoms, utilizing wearable sensors and self-reported data.

Source: UCSF

People with depression have higher body temperatures, suggesting there could be a mental health benefit to lowering the temperatures of those with the disorder, a new UC San Francisco-led study found.

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, doesn’t indicate whether depression raises body temperature or a higher temperature causes depression. It’s also unknown whether the higher body temperature observed in people with depression reflects decreased ability to self-cool, increased generation of heat from metabolic processes or a combination of both.

This shows a depressed woman.
A small body of existing, causal studies has found that using hot tubs or saunas can reduce depression, possibly by triggering the body to self-cool, for example, through sweating. Credit: Neuroscience News

Researchers analyzed data from more than 20,000 international participants who wore a device that measures body temperature, and also self-reported their body temperatures and depression symptoms daily. The seven-month study began in early 2020 and included data from 106 countries.

The results showed that with each increasing level of depression symptom severity, participants had higher body temperatures. The body temperature data also showed a trend toward higher depression scores in people whose temperatures had less fluctuation throughout a 24-hour period, but this finding didn’t reach significance.

The findings shed light on how a novel depression treatment method might work, said Ashley Mason, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

A small body of existing, causal studies has found that using hot tubs or saunas can reduce depression, possibly by triggering the body to self-cool, for example, through sweating.

“Ironically, heating people up actually can lead to rebound body temperature lowering that lasts longer than simply cooling people down directly, as through an ice bath,” said Mason, who is also a clinical psychologist at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Health.

“What if we can track the body temperature of people with depression to time heat-based treatments well?”

“To our knowledge, this is the largest study to date to examine the association between body temperature—assessed using both self-report methods and wearable sensors—and depressive symptoms in a geographically broad sample,” added Mason.

“Given the climbing rates of depression in the United States, we’re excited by the possibilities of a new avenue for treatment.”

About this depression research news

Author: Jess Berthold
Source: UCSF
Contact: Jess Berthold – UCSF
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Elevated body temperature is associated with depressive symptoms: results from the TemPredict Study” by Ashley E. Mason et al. Scientific Reports


Elevated body temperature is associated with depressive symptoms: results from the TemPredict Study

Correlations between altered body temperature and depression have been reported in small samples; greater confidence in these associations would provide a rationale for further examining potential mechanisms of depression related to body temperature regulation.

We sought to test the hypotheses that greater depression symptom severity is associated with (1) higher body temperature, (2) smaller differences between body temperature when awake versus asleep, and (3) lower diurnal body temperature amplitude.

Data collected included both self-reported body temperature (using standard thermometers), wearable sensor-assessed distal body temperature (using an off-the-shelf wearable sensor that collected minute-level physiological data), and self-reported depressive symptoms from > 20,000 participants over the course of ~ 7 months as part of the TemPredict Study. Higher self-reported and wearable sensor-assessed body temperatures when awake were associated with greater depression symptom severity.

Lower diurnal body temperature amplitude, computed using wearable sensor-assessed distal body temperature data, tended to be associated with greater depression symptom severity, though this association did not achieve statistical significance.

These findings, drawn from a large sample, replicate and expand upon prior data pointing to body temperature alterations as potentially relevant factors in depression etiology and may hold implications for development of novel approaches to the treatment of major depressive disorder.

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