Study leaves little doubt: Depression is linked to high body heat
An exhaustive study of more than 20,000 people showed that higher than normal body temperature is consistently found in people who suffer strong symptoms of clinical depression. This knowledge may lead to new ways of treating the disorder.
The subjects wore an Oura ring, which measures skin temperature hourly. They also took their body or “core” temperature and self-reported depression symptoms every day.
The research, led by UC San Diego and UC San Francisco, confirms what has already been suspected: Earlier studies had made the link between high body temperature and depression symptoms.
But those studies looked at samples that were much smaller. The biggest prior sample was about 300 people.
“What I really wanted to look at was: Do we see this correlation between elevated body temperature and elevated depression symptoms in a big enough sample to really see what’s going on? And the answer was 'yes,'” said Ashley Mason, a psychology professor from UCSF.
Researchers said the differences in body temperature were small, but significant and consistent.
“It’s not the case that depression makes you hot in the way that a fever makes you hot,” said UCSD data science professor Benjamin Smarr, a co-author of the study. “This is not something that’s that clear. But it’s a trend that’s clear over time that somebody’s temperature is trending upward more than it should.”
Mason and her fellow researchers said that while they have proven a correlation between high body heat and depression, they have not proven causation. You can’t say, for instance, that you get depressed because you have high body heat.
Even so, Mason said such a strong correlation is an invitation to find a new way to intervene on the problem of depression.
“There’s the chicken and there’s the egg, right? We may not know which is causing which. But the point of intervention may be able to interrupt the cycle,” she said.
So finding a way to regulate a person’s body temperature is a promising path towards therapy. Mason said it may be ironic but putting people in a sauna or a hot tub cools body temperature by forcing people to sweat.
Could a daily regimen of sitting in a hot tub help people who are suffering from depression? The evidence suggests there’s a good chance it may.