Scientists from the University of Cambridge have identified the source of morning sickness, saying it comes down to the presence of one hormone.
While falling pregnant is a joyous occasion for most, one of the not-so-fun parts of the experience is morning sickness, which for some people can be debilitating.
Usually hitting the hardest in the first trimester, morning sickness is the feeling of nausea or the act of actually vomiting, and affects about 70 per cent of pregnant people.
In more severe cases, some women may experience intense morning sickness for the full length of their pregnancy, caused by a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG).
As severe as it is, for a long time feeling unwell has been an unfortunate but unavoidable part of pregnancy. However, researchers now think they’ve discovered the cause of morning sickness, which could lead to a cure for expecting mothers.
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According to the new research, led by Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly of the University of Cambridge, one hormone called GDF15 is the cause of morning sickness.
The amount of nausea a pregnant woman experiences aligns with the amount of hormone that’s produced by the foetus – along with how much prior exposure the woman had to the hormone ahead of her pregnancy.
“The baby growing in the womb is producing a hormone at levels the mother is not used to,” said O’Rahilly. “The more sensitive she is to this hormone, the sicker she will become.”
“Knowing this gives us a clue as to how we might prevent this from happening. It also makes us more confident that preventing GDF15 from accessing its highly specific receptor in the mother’s brain will ultimately form the basis for an effective and safe way of treating this disorder,” he continued.
HG affects up to 3 per cent of pregnancies, and often experience vomiting so severe they are hospitalised, to avoid putting themselves and their baby at risk.
“Most women who become pregnant will experience nausea and sickness at some point, and while this is not pleasant, for some women it can be much worse,” O’Rahilly said in a statement. “They’ll become so sick they require treatment and even hospitalisation,”
With the new discoveries about GDF15, the hopes are that they can develop a cure for morning sickness sooner rather than later.
Based on preliminary experiments with mice, the hypothesis is that by exposing women to the hormone before pregnancy and building up tolerance, they might be able to reduce the severity of the sickness – a welcome promise to women with HG.
Until that day comes, the Mayo Clinic recommends “vitamin B-6 supplements (pyridoxine), ginger and drugs such as doxylamine (Unisom)”, along with anti-nausea medication when required.
Lifestyle factors can also trigger nausea, and the Clinic suggests selecting foods that are “high in protein, low in fat and easy to digest” along with avoiding foods that are greasy, spicy and overly fatty.
Similarly, they suggest snacking often, as being hungry or overly full can also trigger bouts of nausea. Same goes for dehydration, so it’s important to regularly sip water and stay hydrated.
If nausea gets too severe, the first port of call should be your GP, who can investigate whether you might have HG, and can suggest a course of action.