Morning sickness is one of the more unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy. What could be worse? Experiencing the nausea and vomiting associated with morning sickness at mid-morning, noon, afternoon and even at nighttime.
Pregnancy nausea occurs in about 85 percent of pregnancies and can really hurt the quality of life for an expectant mom, especially in the early months. In fact, sometimes pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting can be so severe that moms-to-be end up in the hospital.
No one knows exactly why pregnancy is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. But researchers are working to figure out how to best relieve these unpleasant symptoms. And recently, they found a commonly used supplement may be a solution to pregnant women’s woes in this area…
Probiotics help with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy
Researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine discovered that probiotics significantly improve the symptoms of pregnancy-related nausea, vomiting and constipation. In the process, the study also revealed hints as to why some people are more prone to these symptoms during pregnancy.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help support the gut microbiome found in the gastrointestinal tract. They are found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and tempeh and are also available as supplements that are widely used by adults looking to keep their gut healthy.
When a woman gets pregnant, she experiences an increase in hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which causes many physical changes. These shifts can also impact the gut microbiome and could be the cause of unwanted symptoms like nausea, vomiting and constipation.
In the study, pregnant women were given a probiotic capsule twice a day for six days, then stopped for two days. The cycle was then repeated a second time. Participants consistently tracked their symptoms for those 16 days.
The probiotics used were commercially available over the counter and mainly contained Lactobacillus, one type of friendly bacteria. Each capsule contained an estimated 10 billion live cultures at the time it was made.
Results showed taking the probiotic reduced the number of hours participants felt nauseous by 16 percent and the number of times they vomited by 33 percent. Their quality of life also got better, with participants reporting improvements in symptoms like fatigue, poor appetite and difficulty maintaining normal social activities. Taking probiotics also significantly reduced constipation.
“Over the years, I’ve observed that probiotics can reduce nausea and vomiting and ease constipation,” says Albert T. Liu, lead author for the study and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC Davis. “It’s very encouraging that the study proved this to be true.”
Getting to the root cause
Researchers also studied fecal samples submitted before and during the study to determine whether biomarkers corresponded with more severe nausea. They also examined how the probiotics affected participants who had different baseline biomarkers at the start of the study.
They discovered a link between a low amount of bacteria carrying bile salt hydrolase (an enzyme that generates bile acid to absorb nutrients) and more frequent pregnancy-related vomiting. Probiotics increase the number of bacteria producing this enzyme, which could be one reason why the supplements decreased levels of nausea and vomiting.
In addition, they found those who had high levels of two gut microbes, Akkermansia and A. muciniphila, at the beginning of the study experienced more vomiting. The probiotic significantly decreased both microbes as well as vomiting, so they may be reliable biomarkers for predicting vomiting in pregnancy.
They also measured an increase in vitamin E levels after probiotic intake. Higher levels of vitamin E were connected with reduced vomiting.
The results are exciting, but researchers caution that the small sample size means further studies will be needed to confirm the findings.
When shopping for a probiotic, look for a high-quality supplement containing Lactobacillus and at least 10 billion live, active cultures. Most probiotics come in capsule form, but if you have trouble swallowing pills, there are liquid probiotics available, though they may be harder to find.
It’s always a good idea when pregnant to discuss adding any supplements to your diet with your doctor.