Lying in a hot tent can ease depression by triggering release of mood chemical



22:29 GMT, 30 July 2012

Doctors have devised a type of ‘hot tent’ to tackle depression.

The patient lies inside the tent, with their head outside, while their body temperature is raised.

It’s thought that this may trigger the release of a brain chemical that plays a key role in moods.

The patient lies inside the tent, with their head outside, while their body temperature is raised

The patient lies inside the tent, with their head outside, while their body temperature is raised

Small studies have shown the mood-improving effects can last for several weeks after treatment. Now a larger clinical trial is under way.

Depression is one of the most common illnesses seen by GPs and affects around one in ten adults at some point.

Although there is a wide range of treatments, such as medication and talking therapies, some patients struggle to cope with the illness.

According to the researchers carrying out the new trial, only half of patients with major depression recover in under 12 weeks, and up to one in five will fail to respond to any of the treatments that are currently available.

The new treatment — known as whole-body heating or hyperthermia — was developed after anecdotal reports suggested patients with depression felt better after using a sauna.

The team at the University of Arizona has developed a small tent (like a standard one-man tent) with heaters that sit above the upper part of the body.

The walls of the tent are covered with silver reflectors to retain heat around the body.

The patient lies inside this for two hours, during which time the body temperature rises from a normal 37c to 38.5c.

Depression is one of the most common illnesses seen by GPs

Depression is one of the most common illnesses seen by GPs

Previous studies have suggested that this can yield beneficial effects in the brain and body.

In one study at the University of
Wisconsin, patients underwent whole-body heating for 72 hours as a
treatment for cancer — it was thought heat could make treatment for the
disease more effective by making cancer cells more sensitive to

However, the scientists noted a significant improvement in depression symptoms among some of the patients.

scientists in Wisconsin said that the rise in body temperature may have
produced an increase in brain chemicals called beta-endorphins.

are natural painkilling molecules and are responsible for the so-called
‘runner’s high’ — the feeling of elation people experience after
intense exercise.

are released when the body is under stress, but are also thought to
affect mood — studies show, for instance, they improve self-esteem as
well as easing emotional distress.

Further experiments at the University of Wisconsin showed that levels of beta-endorphins increased in healthy volunteers when their temperature was raised to 39c (the volunteers sat in a sauna).

In the new trial at the University of Arizona, around 30 patients with major depression will be placed in the tent.

Half will be in a heated tent, and half will receive placebo treatment, where they will lie in a tent but not be subjected to heat.

All the patients’ depression levels will be measured using a questionnaire five days before and after treatment, and they will be tracked for a total of seven weeks.

Commenting on the research, Emer O’Neill, chief executive of charity the Depression Alliance, says: ‘We await the results of this trial with great interest.

‘Depression is a complex condition, and people respond to treatments differently.

‘We welcome new research — the more methods we have of treating it, the better.’


Scientists have developed an alternative to electric shock treatment that they say has fewer side-effects than the controversial therapy.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), as it is known, is used for severe depression and involves sending jolts of electricity through the brain to trigger brief seizures.

The theory is that these seizures prompt the release of various brain chemicals, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, which boost mood.

However, there are a number of side-effects, including short-term confusion and long-term memory loss.

Scientists now claim that an alternative treatment, called magnetic seizure therapy, does not have these drawbacks but is just as effective.

The treatment uses focused magnetic fields, rather than electricity, to trigger seizures.

The targeted magnetic field allows just the brain areas involved in depression to be treated, and avoids damage to the areas involved in memory and reasoning.

Scientists at the University of Bonn performed the treatment on 20 patients.

Larger trials are now under way at a number of centres worldwide, including Cardiff University.