How To Prevent & Treat Nausea, According To A Functional Medicine Expert
Chances are you’ve experienced nausea at some point in your life. Nausea can be triggered by many things like the flu, food poisoning, or even motion sickness. But what actually is nausea? We all know the feeling, of course: the sour stomach that leaves you hovering over your toilet heaving up whatever you ate most recently—an unpleasant description for an equally unpleasant situation.
The science behind nausea is crazy, and my inner nerd could write a book with all the information out there on the mechanism of queasiness. Your body is an intricate web, and all its parts are artfully interwoven, with each system responsible for a specific role yet also working together toward the common goal of keeping you as healthy as possible. Here’s exactly what you need to know when it comes to nausea and your body, for the next time that familiar queasiness starts to creep up:
This is what causes nausea:
There are many things that can trigger the onset of nausea, including food poisoning, certain medications, pregnancy and hormonal changes, chemotherapy, migraines, viral infections like the flu, and exposure to toxins. In other words, nausea is your body’s way of signaling to you that there's a problem that needs to be addressed, so let's dig a little deeper into the root causes of nausea:
1. Your central nervous system.
Your central nervous system (CNS) is one of two parts of the entire nervous system and consists of both the brain and spinal cord. Its main function is to use the information it receives to manage the activity of all parts of the body. When you experience different nervous system disruptions such as migraines, tumors, seizures, or stroke, it can activate symptoms of nausea.
2. The peripheral nervous system.
This is the second part of your nervous system and is made up of all nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. Within this system is a smaller section of nerves known as the autonomic nervous system. These nerves are responsible for the activity of internal organs—one being the digestive system.
3. The chemoreceptor trigger zone.
The chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ) is an area of your brain that is outside of the blood-brain barrier. One of its biggest roles is to communicate with your body’s vomiting center, which then communicates with the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to initiate vomiting. It quickly detects the presence of toxins and other harmful bacteria and uses nausea (and therefore vomiting) to expel these unwanted invaders to the body. The next time you get food poisoning, you can rest easy knowing that your CTZ zone is taking care of it.
4. The vestibular system.
Your vestibular apparatus is located in your inner ear and is responsible for managing proper balance. Motion sickness is believed to be a result of a mismatch between your visual and vestibular system. That’s why some people get car sick when reading or doing other activities while in transit. Your inner ear communicates that you are moving but your eyes are focusing on a sedentary object. Research has shown a correlation between less visibility with a greater instance of motion sickness.
How to protect yourself against nausea:
Certainly no one chooses to get food poisoning or even a migraine, but what about other controllable factors such as motion sickness? On top of just avoiding the situation altogether, there are many ways to help mitigate your symptoms. These techniques can be helpful if you are already experiencing nausea as well:
1. Make sure to keep your eyes on the horizon.
Avoid reading and other activities and focus on the road. Sitting in the front seat can help because your eyes are looking onward in a more natural position, as if you are walking, and this creates less disruption between your eyes and inner ear.
Similar to acupuncture, which uses needles to target specific points to relieve symptoms, acupressure just uses pressure on those same points without penetrating the skin. Pericardium 6 is a point located on the wrist and has been shown to help relieve and prevent nausea. You can actually buy pressure bands that are designed to activate this specific area.
Ginger has been used for thousands of years to treat nausea and digestive distress—with multiple studies suggesting that it's an effective method. I always try to have some ginger tea bags on hand so I can make a quick cup whenever the queasiness starts to creep in.
Your essential-oil-obsessed friends were right about one thing: They really do help with nausea. I always have some diffusing at home and in my functional medicine clinic. Aromatherapy has been used to reduce nausea in patients recovering from surgery. and peppermint, ginger, and even lemon essential oils can be diffused alone or in combination to create a powerful anti-nausea blend. You can even buy handy car diffusers if you are prone to motion sickness while driving.
5. CBD Oil.
No, I am not telling you to get high. This oil is made up of the non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol referred to as CBD. It can be ingested to activate the compound 5-hydroxytryptamiine-1A (5-HT1A), a monoamine neurotransmitter that can reduce the feeling of nausea.
Nausea is never fun, but you can take solace in knowing that it is your body’s way of alerting that something isn't quite right. If stomach problems are something that occur frequently for you—and do not go away with these remedies—it may be a sign of a bigger underlying issue that needs to be addressed.