Inducing mild fever may treat depression: Study

Inducing mild fever may treat depression: Study

An estimated 350 million people across the world are entangled in the web of depression. This figure by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals not only the prevalence of the disease but also the urgency to find an effective treatment for the disorder.

In their pursuit to discover an effective treatment for depression, a team of scientists recently revealed that whole-body hyperthermia (WBH) can help treat depression through its sustained antidepressant effects.

Heat makes brain feel happy

Elucidating the objective of the research, lead author of the study Dr. Charles Raison of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said, “Our hope is to find better and faster-acting treatments for depression than the antidepressants currently in use. We think that using heat to stimulate the skin activates serotonin-producing cells in the mid-brain, which then produce a change in how the brain functions. In a way, one might think of this pathway from the skin to the brain as a deep-brain stimulator crafted by evolution. We tap into this pathway because heat makes the brain feel happy.”

The randomized trial was conducted between February 2013 and May 2015 on a group of medically fit participants, aged 18-65 years, who were suffering from a major depressive disorder (MDD). The scientists made sure that the participants under consideration were not prescribed any psychedelics for treatment and had scored 16 or more on a baseline 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS).

In the study, titled “Whole-Body Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” the scientists used a hyperthermia device to raise the body temperature of 16 volunteers to 38.5°C. The rest were subjected to a “sham procedure” by making them lie inside the hyperthermia device with fans and lights and providing them only a small amount of heat as opposed to the intense infrared heat used in the others.

Commenting on the sham treatment provided to 14 respondents selected on a random basis, Raison said, “Our sham intervention was so realistic that most of the participants (10 of 14) thought they were receiving the real treatment.” This was done to demonstrate that the antidepressant response was not attributed primarily to controlled factors linked to the treatment.

Hyperthermic treatment helped decrease HDRS scores

The findings indicated that the real hyperthermic treatment resulted in amelioration of HDRS scores by an average of 5.67 points more than that scored in the sham treatment during the first week and an average difference of 4.83 points at six weeks post the treatment procedure. The researchers explained that HDRS scores between 0 and 7 are considered to be normal, scores between eight and 13 are considered mild depression, 14 to 18 indicate moderate depression, while people suffering from severe depression exhibit scores of 19 and above.

Increased body temperature triggered mood regulation

The findings, published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May 2016, showed that depression scores of 34 respondents afflicted with severe depressive disorder had improved by nearly 5.67 points, compared to those in the “sham” group. The average difference was found to be 4.83 points six weeks post the treatment procedure.

The scientists believed that high body temperature triggered serotonin-producing cells that changed the functioning of the brain. Absorption of heat through the skin helped decrease depression levels, encouraging the researchers to carry out more trials on the same.

Available treatment options

The definition of darkness can be best described by a depressed mind. The inability to see light and happiness, the incessant feeling of hopelessness, and the guilt of being worthless give way to an invisible and unrelenting feeling of agony.

If you or your loved one is suffering from the burden of depression, it’s time to act. Depression can be cured with timely intervention. At the Texas Depression Treatment Helpline, you can access the necessary information on the right kind of depression treatment in Texas. You may contact our 24/7 helpline number at 866-827-0282 or chat online for further expert advice.