There’s a strange link between depression and body temperature, a large study has found: ScienceAlert

There’s a strange link between depression and body temperature, a large study has found: ScienceAlert

To better treat and prevent depression, we need to understand more about the brains and bodies where depression occurs.

Surprisingly, few studies have identified links between depressive symptoms and body temperature, but their small sample sizes leave much room for doubt.

The researchers, led by a team from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), analyzed data from 20,880 individuals collected over a period of seven months, confirming that people with depression tend to have higher body temperatures.

Although the study, which included participants from 106 countries, is accurate, it is not enough to prove that high body temperature causes depression, or that depression actually causes the body to warm.

However, it suggests that there is a link here worth investigating. If something as simple as staying calm can help treat the symptoms of depression, it could help millions of people around the world.

“To our knowledge, this is the largest study to date to examine the relationship between body temperature — assessed using self-report methods and wearable sensors — and depressive symptoms in a geographically broad sample,” says Ashley Mason, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Researchers say there may be a number of reasons for this association. Depression may be related to metabolic processes that generate extra heat, or related to the cooling of biological functions that are not working properly. Or there may be a common underlying cause, such as mental stress or inflammation that affects body temperature and depressive symptoms separately.

This is something future studies could investigate. By now, we know that depression is a complex and multifaceted condition, and likely has many different triggers, and body temperature can play a role.

Previous research has found that hot tubs and saunas can reduce symptoms of depression, albeit in small sample groups. It is possible that the self-cooling this causes, through sweating, also has a mental effect.

“Ironically, heating people up can actually cause a lower body temperature that lasts longer than simply cooling people down directly, such as through an ice bath,” Mason says. “What if we could track the body temperature of people with depression to better time temperature-based treatment?”

The study data showed that when self-reported depression symptoms became more severe, average body temperatures rose. There was also some association between higher depression scores and lower daily temperature fluctuations, but not at a statistically significant level.

With about 5% of people around the world believed to suffer from depression, efforts to understand and treat it effectively are more urgent than ever. Each new discovery brings more hope for tackling the problem.

“Given the high rates of depression in the United States, we are excited about the possibilities of a new treatment,” Mason says.

The research was published in Scientific reports.

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