Scientists investigate whether a dip in a hot bath could really ease depression
COULD a hot and relaxing bath be the new way to treat depression? That's the theory behind a trial in which patients with depression and anxiety will be prescribed dips in hot water at temperatures of 39C to 40C.
Heat emerged as a potential treatment after it was found that when people with depression have a fever, say from a cold or another illness, their mood improved.
Around one in five adults show symptoms of anxiety or depression in the UK. As a result, they may experience feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness as well as having physical symptoms including excessive tiredness, insomnia and loss of libido.
It was first reported back in 1995, in the journal Biological Psychiatry, that high fevers may ease depression.
A number of small studies have since supported the idea that heat may help – including one reported at the 2016 annual meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry in Atlanta in the US. For that, heated coils were placed around patients with severe depression, increasing their body temperature to 38.3C. The heat was then turned off and the patients cooled down for one hour.
The researchers, from Wisconsin University, found that 60 per cent of the patients responded to treatment, and 40 per cent met the criteria for remission from their depression after a single session.
There are several theories why heat might help. One is that depression has recently been associated with high levels of general inflammation in the body – so the theory is heat may increase levels of anti-inflammatory compounds.
Another theory is that the sensation of heating the body may relax patients, making them less prone to negative thoughts. The new trial at Lakehead University, in Canada, will recruit 150 patients diagnosed with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We know reducing inflammation is a successful antidepressant strategy in patients who have high inflammation and do not respond to antidepressants," says Carmine Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry at King's College London. "Thus, it would be great if we could find more natural ways of decreasing inflammation through heat, without anti-inflammatory medications."
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