Heat Therapy Outperforms Cold in Treating Depression, Study Shows

Saunas and cold therapy are all the hype in the health world these days, but when it comes to treating depression, one is a winner. Studies suggest that saunas may be better than ice baths in decreasing depressive symptoms.

At least 5% of adults in the world suffer from depression, with rates increasing post-covid.

Treatment for depression often includes medication such as antidepressants, which are generally safe to use but can also come with side effects. Issues such as gastrointestinal distress, headaches, sexual dysfunction, sleep disorders, weight gain, and anxiety are all potential outcomes of taking antidepressant medication.

Alternative therapies like heat therapy and cold exposure have become commonplace in reducing depressive symptoms in conjunction with antidepressant medications, and sometimes in place of them.

Higher Body Temperature Linked to Depression

New research has found that heat therapy can have a significant antidepressant effect. Dr. Ashley Mason, associate professor of psychiatry at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences and the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Health at the University of California – San Francisco, is lead author for a study on depression and alternative treatments.

Dr. Mason and her team examined a potential connection between depression and having a higher body temperature. “We have newer data suggesting that temperature-based interventions may reduce depression symptoms. For example, data have shown that using heat-based treatments, in particular infrared sauna, causes acute increases in body temperature.”

Severe Depression Symptoms and Higher Temperature

This large study that Dr. Mason and her team conducted used data from more than 20,000 participants including 106 countries. Data included participants reporting self-taken body temperatures along with wearing a device that measured body temperature. This information was combined with their depression symptoms and tracked for several months.

Researchers found that participants with higher body temperatures had more severe levels of depression, thus linking high body temperature to increased depressive symptoms.

Sauna vs. Ice Bath for Treating Depression

Other studies have found the same conclusion, discovering that whole-body-hyperthermia, aka raising a person’s body temperature, may be useful in treating depression.

In addition to infrared saunas providing benefits, hot yoga and hyperthermic baths may be beneficial.

Despite these findings, don’t rule out cold therapies. Although studies have shown the benefits of heat therapy, there is also evidence that cold therapies like ice baths and cryotherapy have potential depression-alleviating abilities.

Cooling Methods- More Research Needed

The connection between high body temperatures and increased depression seems clear. So, it also makes sense that changing your body temperature can impact depression symptoms.

More research is needed to make concrete decisions in terms of the benefits of cooling the body down to improve mood. It is likely that the body’s cooling ability decreasing from a heated state is the source of the depressive healing. Regardless of the cause, it appears that both ice baths and saunas may provide mental health benefits.