Natural Morning Sickness Relief

Healthnotes Newswire (May 12, 2005)—A review of several studies concludes that ginger may be a safe and effective treatment for women suffering from the morning sickness of pregnancy, reports Obstetrics and Gynecology (2005;105:849–56).

Morning sickness affects as many as 85% of women in their first trimester of pregnancy. Sometimes the symptoms of nausea and vomiting are severe enough to require hospitalization for intravenous fluid and electrolyte replacement, a form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidum. Morning sickness usually resolves by the end of the twelfth week of gestation, but in a small percentage of women it can last throughout the entire pregnancy.

Medications used to treat morning sickness carry the risk of harm to the unborn baby. The first 12 weeks of pregnancy are a critical time in fetal development, when the baby is particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of certain medications and drugs. (Substances that can cause defects in the developing embryo are called teratogens.) Although the currently prescribed antinausea medications do not appear to cause birth defects, many expectant mothers prefer to forego taking any drugs during pregnancy.

Ginger has been used historically to treat arthritis, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The new study reviewed seven trials with a total of 862 women to assess the safety and efficacy of ginger in the treatment of morning sickness.

The first study compared the effect of ginger with a placebo in 27 women who were hospitalized with hyperemesis gravidum. The women received either 250 mg of dried ginger four times per day for four days or placebo. This was followed by a two-day no-treatment period; then each woman received the other treatment for another four days. Ginger was better than placebo at decreasing or completely alleviating the symptoms of hyperemesis gravidum.

Another study compared the effect of ginger with a placebo in relieving symptoms of nausea and/or vomiting in 67 pregnant women. Participants received either 250 mg of dried ginger four times per day for four days or placebo. In this study, ginger was superior to placebo in decreasing the severity of nausea and vomiting.

In a study of 120 women with morning sickness, the effect of 125 mg of ginger extract (containing the equivalent of 1,500 mg of dried ginger) given four times per day for four days was compared with placebo. After treatment, the ginger group had significantly less nausea and retching than the placebo group. No improvement in vomiting was seen in either group.

In another study, 23 pregnant women with nausea and/or vomiting were given either a syrup containing 250 mg of ginger four times per day for two weeks or placebo. The ginger syrup significantly reduced nausea and vomiting compared with placebo.

Two studies compared the effect of ginger with that of vitamin B6 in women with morning sickness. Vitamin B6 has been shown to significantly reduce the severity of morning sickness in some studies. In the first, 128 women who received either 500 mg of dried ginger or 10 mg of vitamin B6 three times per day for three days, both ginger and vitamin B6 significantly reduced the degree of nausea and the number of vomiting episodes. In the second study, 235 women with morning sickness took either 350 mg of dried ginger or 25 mg of vitamin B6 three times per day for three weeks. Both ginger and vitamin B6 relieved the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and retching; however, belching was more common in the ginger group than in the vitamin B6 group.

An observational study compared the incidence of adverse outcomes in women who took ginger and in women who took nonteratogenic drugs in the first trimester of pregnancy. No significant differences were noted between the groups with respect to live birth rates, miscarriage rates, birth weight, or gestational age (how many weeks pregnant the mother was when the baby was born).

Six of the studies specifically evaluated the safety of ginger in pregnancy. Ginger did not appear to adversely affect mother or baby; there were no reports of maternal hemorrhage, preeclampsia (a serious condition of high blood pressure during pregnancy), premature births, fetal deaths, birth defects, or low birth weight. Some of the studies reported mild side effects of ginger including headache, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, drowsiness, and heartburn.

Taken together, the results of these studies suggest that ginger is a safe and effective treatment for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. No increase in birth defects has been reported in research studies that used ginger, nor in cultures where approximately 1 gram of ginger is used daily in the diet. Ginger is, however, known to contain substances that could theoretically cause birth defects. Therefore, taking higher doses than those used in these studies during pregnancy is not advisable.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.

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