Scientists Have Just Found The Main Cause For Morning Sickness

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Morning sickness has been a mysterious affliction impacting pregnancies for years – and now, scientists might know why.

Yes, finally there might be an answer for that urgent need to vomit (and constant nauseous feeling) so many people experience when trying to grow another human.

Turns out, scientists think everyone can blame a hormone called GDF15 – here’s what you need to know.

Why is morning sickness so debilitating?

Morning sickness affects around two thirds of pregnancies. It’s characterised by feeling sick, or actually vomiting, at various points throughout the day – yes, despite the name, it can happen morning or night.

The issue is usually triggered by certain smells and taste, and is especially common in the first three months of pregnancy. That said, some people have it up to 16 or 20 weeks of pregnancy – or up until they give birth.

For one in 50 expectant mums, it can be extremely severe, a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG).

The current Princess of Wales suffered from HG throughout all three of her pregnancies. It can lead to weight loss, serious dehydration and malnutrition, while also affecting the lives of both the carrier and the baby.

London-based Mayo Clinic’s website warned that you could even lose more than 5% of pre-pregnancy body weight just through hyperemesis gravidarum, and the condition might require hospital treatment.

What do we know about GDF15?

It’s a hormone called growth/differentiation factor 15, and scientists are pretty sure it’s linked to sickness in pregnancy – although their findings haven’t been peer-reviewed yet.

GDF15 was first discovered 30 years ago, but it wasn’t linked to nausea and vomiting until 2017.

And, researchers have only now focused on the impact it might have on pregnancy.

After Cambridge University research found that anyone who had morning sickness had higher levels of GDF15, University of Southern California research discovered that variants of the gene for GDF15 can increase the risk of hyperemesis gravidarum.

Curiously, the researchers found the women who had higher levels of GDF15 in their blood prior to conception were less likely to experience morning sickness once they did get pregnant.

Scientists theorised that bodies can get desensitised to GDF15 if they naturally have a high level – but if they have a naturally low level prior to pregnancy, it can knock them for six when it increases after conception.

Makes sense.

How could morning sickness be treated?

Researchers are suggesting that strategies which increase circulating GDF15 levels safely “may be useful in the prevention of these conditions”.

Scientists are still looking into how to reduce the amount of GDF15 for other conditions that cause nausea and vomiting.

The drug thalidomide was rolled out in the 1950s to treat morning sickness, but it was later found to be responsible for congenital disorders – which is why any subsequent medication meant to tackle similar conditions has faced serious scrutiny.

Sumona Saha, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the New Scientist that this research offered “compelling evidence that alterations in GDF15 may be linked to hyperemesis gravidarum”.

However, until further advances are made, it’s best to stick to the advice from the Mayo Clinic. Specialists suggest home remedies like snacking throughout the day, sipping ginger ale or taking over-the-counter medicine might ease your symptoms.

The NHS also recommends eating cold food, drinking plenty of fluids, eating before you get out of bed, getting plenty of rest and trying acupressure.

When do you need to speak to a doctor about morning sickness?

The NHS suggests speaking to your healthcare provided if:

  • You are producing no urine, or only a little urine which is very dark in colour,
  • You can’t keep food or liquids down,
  • You feel faint when you stand up,
  • You have stomach pain,
  • You have a high temperature,
  • You vomit blood,
  • Your heart is racing,
  • You’ve lost weight.