In January 2020 researchers from Australia and the UK pubished the results of their review on whether heat therapy can be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The researchers stated that neurodegenerative diseases involve the gradual deterioration of structures within the central nervous system which are responsible for motor control, cognition, and autonomic function. It appears that this is due to the loss of protein homeostasis. Heat shock proteins help to regulate the aggregation and disaggregation of proteins inside and outside cells, and there is evidence that they have a protective effect against protein aggregation which is common to neurodegenerative diseases. Heat therapy and/or heat acclimation has been shown to increase heat shock proteins in healthy individuals, and it is now thought that elevated heat shock proteins may have a beneficial therapeutic effect by preventing or reducing the toxicity of protein aggregation, and/or enhancing neuromuscular function. Other identified responses to heat therapy include improvements in muscle function, cerebral blood flow, and markers of metabolic health ( ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density HDL(good) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications). These outcomes may also have a significant benefit for people with neurodegenerative disease. While there is only limited research into body warming there is some evidence that sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of developing neurodegenerative disease. The emerging evidence appears compelling and further research into the potential benefits of heat acclimation and passive heat therapy for sufferers of neurodegenerative diseases is warranted.
Hunt AP et al. Could Heat Therapy Be an Effective Treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases? A Narrative Review. Front Physiol. 2020 Jan 10;10:1556.