Could Heat Therapy Be an Effective Treatment for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases? A Narrative Review

Front Physiol. 2020 Jan 10;10:1556. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01556. eCollection 2019.


Neurodegenerative diseases involve the progressive deterioration of structures within the central nervous system responsible for motor control, cognition, and autonomic function. Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease are among the most common neurodegenerative disease and have an increasing prevalence over the age of 50. Central in the pathophysiology of these neurodegenerative diseases is the loss of protein homeostasis, resulting in misfolding and aggregation of damaged proteins. An element of the protein homeostasis network that prevents the dysregulation associated with neurodegeneration is the role of molecular chaperones. Heat shock proteins (HSPs) are chaperones that regulate the aggregation and disaggregation of proteins in intracellular and extracellular spaces, and evidence supports their protective effect against protein aggregation common to neurodegenerative diseases. Consequently, upregulation of HSPs, such as HSP70, may be a target for therapeutic intervention for protection against neurodegeneration. A novel therapeutic intervention to increase the expression of HSP may be found in heat therapy and/or heat acclimation. In healthy populations, these interventions have been shown to increase HSP expression. Elevated HSP may have central therapeutic effects, preventing or reducing the toxicity of protein aggregation, and/or peripherally by enhancing neuromuscular function. Broader physiological responses to heat therapy have also been identified and include improvements in muscle function, cerebral blood flow, and markers of metabolic health. These outcomes may also have a significant benefit for people with neurodegenerative disease. While there is limited research into body warming in patient populations, regular passive heating (sauna bathing) has been associated with a reduced risk of developing neurodegenerative disease. Therefore, the emerging evidence is compelling and warrants further investigation of the potential benefits of heat acclimation and passive heat therapy for sufferers of neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: alpha-synuclein; body warming; heat shock protein; neurodegenerative disease; passive heating; thermal therapy.

Publication types

  • Review