Health & Wellness

Unlocking the Mystery of Morning Sickness: New Insights and Potential Treatments



New studies show that most pregnant women – roughly 80% – suffer from morning sickness. Researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Cambridge have found that a hormone named GDF15, produced by the placenta, is mainly to blame for it. Their research indicates the severity of morning sickness varies with an individual’s sensitivity to this hormone.

  • Key Findings: The hormone GDF15, usually present at low levels, spikes during pregnancy, triggering morning sickness.
  • Genetic Factors: Genetic variations, such as beta-thalassemia, affect GDF15 levels and influence susceptibility to morning sickness.
  • Variation in Severity: While some women experience mild symptoms, around 2% suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), requiring hospitalization.

Genetic Causes and Pregnancy Variations

Research also highlights how genetic factors play a significant role in the development of morning sickness. Individuals with certain genetic mutations or inherited blood disorders like beta thalassemia exhibit altered levels of GDF15, impacting their experience of morning sickness. Notably, these genetic factors can differ between pregnancies, explaining why some women experience HG in some pregnancies but not in others.

Advancements in Treatment and Prevention Strategies

The research team is exploring innovative approaches to manage and prevent morning sickness. One avenue is the use of metformin, an oral diabetes drug, to prepare women with a history of HG for hormone surges in future pregnancies. Additionally, trials are underway to test drugs that block GDF15 from binding to its receptor in the brain, potentially alleviating symptoms.

  • Potential Treatments: Researchers are examining drugs used in treating cachexia and nausea in cancer patients for their effectiveness in blocking GDF15.
  • Personal Connection: Dr. Marlena Fejzo, a key researcher, has a personal motivation behind the study, having experienced HG during her pregnancy.

Broader Implications and the Journey Ahead

Morning sickness, while often dismissed as a minor inconvenience, can have severe implications. More than 2% of pregnant women develop HG, leading to risks like dehydration, weight loss, and potential adverse effects on the fetus. The dismissive attitude of some medical professionals towards this condition has historically hindered research and understanding.

  • Treatment Approaches: Current recommendations for managing morning sickness include anti-nausea medications, rest, and avoiding triggers. For HG, doctors prescribe anti-vomiting medications and vitamin B1.
  • Future Research: Studies are in progress to explore prevention methods, including pre-pregnancy exposure to GDF15 to build tolerance.

The Personal Drive for Solutions

Dr. Fejzo’s commitment to finding solutions for morning sickness is fueled by her own traumatic experience with HG, which resulted in the loss of her baby. Her work with the HER Foundation raises awareness about HG and supports research efforts.

  • Personal Impact: The severity of HG can deter women from subsequent pregnancies, underlining the need for effective treatments and preventive measures.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Morning Sickness Research

Unlocking the secret to tackling morning sickness is still underway. Authorities stress that ongoing research is crucial to validate our current understanding and to improve treatment methods. They’re keen on developing personalized therapies tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup and hormonal responses, ensuring each person receives a bespoke remedy.

  • Ongoing Studies: Future research will likely focus on understanding the intricate relationship between genetic makeup, hormone levels, and the body’s response to these changes during pregnancy.
  • Personalized Medicine: The aim is to develop treatments that are tailored to individual needs, taking into account genetic predispositions and hormonal sensitivities.


In conclusion, the breakthrough discovery of the role of GDF15 in morning sickness opens new avenues for treatment and prevention, bringing hope to many expecting mothers. Continued research in this field is essential to fully understand and effectively combat this challenging condition. For more detailed information on this research, visit the Nature journal.

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