Depression Stunner: Why Your Body Temperature Could Be Affecting Your Mood

SAN FRANCISCO — Innovative treatments for depression are on the horizon thanks to a revolutionary discovery by a team from the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF). Scientists have found that individuals with depression exhibit higher body temperatures compared to those without the condition. This revelation opens up potential new pathways for treating depression by focusing on regulating body temperature.

The study delves into the complex relationship between depression and body temperature. While it remains unclear whether depression causes an increase in body temperature or if the higher temperature contributes to depression, the findings are significant. Researchers suggest that managing body temperature could play a role in alleviating depressive symptoms.

Dubbed the TemPredict Study, this ambitious research endeavor analyzed data from over 20,000 participants from 106 countries, leveraging both traditional self-reported temperature readings and cutting-edge wearable technology to gather insights. The study spanned approximately seven months.

Researchers found that individuals reporting higher levels of depressive symptoms also exhibited elevated body temperatures, particularly when awake. This pattern remained consistent across various measures, including self-reported temperatures and data captured by wearable sensors. Interestingly, the study also explored the variations in body temperature throughout the day, noting that those with depression showed smaller differences between their temperatures when awake and asleep. This phenomenon suggests a potential disruption in the body’s natural rhythms among those suffering from depression.

Study lead author Dr. Ashley Mason, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, highlighted the implications of these findings for depression treatment. Dr. Mason pointed out that existing studies have shown the benefits of using heat exposure, such as hot tubs or saunas, to reduce depression symptoms. This process may work by prompting the body to initiate self-cooling mechanisms, like sweating, which could lead to a lasting reduction in body temperature.

Couple in sauna
Hot tubs or saunas may reduce depression symptoms by prompting the body to initiate self-cooling mechanisms, like sweating, which could lead to a lasting reduction in body temperature. (© WavebreakMediaMicro – stock.adobe.com)

“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,” says Dr. Mason, who is also a clinical psychologist at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Health, in a university release. “What if we can track the body temperature of people with depression to time heat-based treatments well?”

This approach suggests an innovative method to combat depression by strategically applying heat to trigger the body’s natural cooling response.

This study’s revelation — that higher body temperatures are associated with more severe depressive symptoms — echoes the whispers of previous research but does so with a louder, clearer voice, thanks to its large-scale and diverse sample.

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

teen depression
Scientists discovered that individuals with depression exhibit higher body temperatures compared to those without the condition. (Credit: Pixabay from Pexels)

The study also underscores the complexity of depression as a multifaceted disorder influenced by a tapestry of biological, psychological, and social factors. The observed link between body temperature and depression paves the way for further exploration into how targeting the body’s thermoregulatory system might offer relief for those ensnared by depression’s grip.

However, more research is necessary to understand the implications of these findings fully. Future studies will likely delve deeper into the mechanisms at play and explore how interventions that modulate body temperature can be integrated into broader treatment strategies for depression.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.


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