A research breakthrough could make morning sickness a thing of the past. (Credit: Yuris Alhumaydy, Unsplash)

For most pregnant people – roughly seven in 10 – morning sickness is simply a frustrating reality to be accepted. But that may finally be changing.

A new, published study has isolated the hormone that causes the vomiting and nausea in  pregnancies – meaning that researchers could potentially block it to ease suffering, marking a breakthrough in our maternal healthcare capabilities. 

The hormone in question, GDF15, is present in most individuals, whether pregnant or not, and we experience spikes in the production of it when under stress. “It’s a signal that tells our brain that bad stuff is happening in the body,” study author Dr. Stephen O’Rahilly, an endocrinologist at the University of Cambridge, explained to the Wall Street Journal. 

Knowing what the hormone is, and what causes irregularities with it – “it’s the baby who is making you sick,” O’Rahilly states plainly – can lead to the creation of treatments that reduce that effect while avoiding harm to the fetus by targeting production of GDF15 in the patient’s brain. Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer are said to be testing drugs in this vein presently.

Marlena Fejzo, a geneticist at the University of Southern California who co-authored the study, understands the need for such developments firsthand. She, like millions of others, including famous moms like Amy Schumer, Kelly Clarkson and Kate Middleton, grappled with morning sickness. And like many sufferers, she had to be hospitalized for treatment.

Hers was an especially severe iteration of it called hyperemesis gravidarum, however – which was so debilitating during her second pregnancy that she required hospitalization, as well as interventions like a feeding tube. “I was starving. I couldn’t even stand,” she recalled to the Journal. She ended up losing the baby at around 15 weeks. 

So, adds Fejzo, “to get to this place where we might be able to prevent and treat this condition – it’s huge.”