There are many limitations to the current use of antidepressants, from lack of effectiveness to difficulty in withdrawal. For many people with depression, medication isn’t the answer. There is a real need for alternatives to medications. One such treatment that you may be surprised to read about is the anti-depressant effects of sauna use.
Following positive animal study results, there was ‘contained’ excitement when an initial trial of infrared sauna use in humans reduced major depressive symptoms over a 6-week period. However, there was a lack of a placebo group in the study, so no conclusion could be drawn that the sauna was actually what affected the depression.
But these results encouraged further trials. Yet how could you create a placebo sauna?
Let’s take a look at two trials on using saunas for depression and see what they did.
Body temperature and depression
Other research on depression has found that people with major depressive disorder often display abnormalities in thermoregulation. This frequently includes a reduced ability to sweat and an increased core body temp. After successful treatment, both of these parameters seem to normalize.
Both saunas and whole body hyperthermia exert many of their actions via increasing the body core temperature. As some people with depression already have increased core temperature, you may think that saunas could make it worse. However getting into a habit of regular sauna use helps reset our core temperature – whether it is usually low or high. It acts like an ‘adaptogen‘ – to adapt by either lowering or increasing core temperature as necessary.
As we are seeing in this series of sauna blog posts, this simple lifestyle intervention can have many beneficial effects.
Don’t forget the precautions for sauna use.