Turn Up the Heat to Turn Down Depression?

Researchers at the University of Arizona are recruiting patients for a study exploring how heating up the body might help treat severe depression.

Led by Dr. Charles Raison, a UA associate professor of psychiatry and member of the UA's BIO5 Institute, the study will examine the use of whole-body hyperthermia as an alternative treatment for depression. The work will build on Raison's existing research, suggesting that increasing a person's core body temperature may have antidepressant effects.

"We've known for a long time that the brain affects the body – that how you think, how you feel can change how your body functions," said Raison, also the Barry and Janet Lang Associate Professor of Integrative Mental Health at the UA's John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences. "I have been interested for years in the opposite, which is the impact that the body has on the brain."

Raison has done extensive research on the effects of inflammation in the body, looking specifically at how inflammation can signal the brain to become depressed. Having looked at inflammation as a sensory pathway to the brain, he began wondering how other sensory pathways in the body, such as the one between the skin and the brain, might also be linked to depression.

His interest in the relationship between body temperature and mood emerged from his study of Tibetan Buddhist monks living in the Himalayas. He was intrigued by the monks' tummo meditation practice, in which they use specialized breathing techniques to increase their body temperature.

"There have been some scientific studies that show they can raise the temperature of their hands and feet by 15 degrees through their meditation," he said

"I was very interested in studying these guys, and because of that interest I discovered that the pathways involved in how the body regulates heat – or thermoregulation, the ability of the brain and the body to maintain a normal body temperature – are the same pathways involved in depression," Raison said. "Serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine – all these chemicals that we think of as depression chemicals are also thermoregulatory chemicals."

As it turns out, in depressed people, something seems to go awry in the thermoregulation process, Raison said. For example, research has shown that depressed individuals often have elevated core body temperatures but don't sweat as they should to cool the body down.-

Knowing this, Raison suggests that just as inflammation in the body can contribute physically to depression, so might a flawed thermoregulation process.

Read the rest of this June 20, 2013 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Jun 24 2013
Contact: 
Charles Raison