Sauna use has been shown to combat depression in numerous ways. Depression has been linked in numerous studies to elevated core body temperature. Research shows that, counterintuitively, giving people with depression a brief hit of even higher body temperature (e.g. via sauna use or other body heating devices) can lead to remarkable improvement in depression.
How Sauna Use Act As An Anti-Depressant and Fights Depression
- Temporarily increasing body temperature and spiking inflammation (and increasing heat-shock proteins) actually lowers baseline body temperature and inflammation (normalizes body temperature regulation and inflammatory/immune pathways), through hormesis.
- Heat hormesis also may promote autophagy in the brain, which makes brain cells more resilient and resistant to a range of stressors.
- Sauna use has been shown to cause a massive release of beta-endorphins in the brain, leading to better mood and fewer negative effects of stress.
- Heat acclimation also has the longer-term effect of making you more sensitive to endorphins. When the body is under heat stress, a substance called dynorphin is released. Dynorphin has a role in thermal regulation but it also produces dysphoria or discomfort. To counter this, the body responds by not only producing more endorphins but more endorphin receptors and increasing the sensitivity of those receptors. This means you need less to feel good even when you are not heat-stressed, so you can get more pleasure from everyday activities, like watching a sunset.