Researchers have discovered the cause of morning sickness, leading to hopes of a cure for the often debilitating pregnancy symptom.

A study has revealed that a hormone produced by the foetus triggers nausea and vomiting. And it appears women who have naturally low levels of the hormone, called GDF15, may experience more severe morning sickness symptoms. Leading researchers to suggest exposing women to the hormone before pregnancy could help curb morning sickness.

“We now know that women get sick during pregnancy when they are exposed to higher levels of the hormone GDF15 than they are used to,” said Marlena Fejzo, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Center for Genetic Epidemiology at the Keck School of Medicine and the paper’s first author.

With 80% of women affected by morning sickness during pregnancy, and an additional 2% struck with the more severe form called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), nausea and vomiting can have huge risks for both mum and baby. And up until now, little was known about the cause of morning sickness.

morning sickness

With the link between GDF15, which is produced by the placenta, and morning sickness, comes the possibility of a cure.

“Knowing this gives us a clue as to how we might prevent this from happening,” said Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly, MD, co-director of the Wellcome-Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, who led the collaboration.

The researchers say that lowering GDF15 is one of the ways to potentially ease morning sickness, with this study indicating it’s likely safe to do so. Or, alternatively, a woman could be exposed to the hormone prior to pregnancy, to prepare them for a surge in the hormone once they’re pregnant.

“This study provides strong evidence that one or both of those methods will be effective in preventing or treating HG,” Dr Fejzo said.

The research team will now test whether ‘priming’ a woman with the hormone prior to pregnancy will reduce nausea and vomiting or prevent HG. They’re also keen to test an additional class of drugs that may help with HG by blocking the hormone from binding its receptor to the brain.

“Hopefully, now that we understand the main cause of HG, we’re a step closer to developing effective treatments to stop other mothers from going through what I, and many other women, have experienced,” she said.

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  • This wouldve been handy 30 odd years ago, when I was having babies. The Thalidomide causing morning sickness drug springs to mind immediately tho


  • I’d find it so hard to trust, but I guess if the nausea is bad enough…


  • Wow this could be amazing for those women who experience severe morning sickness.


  • What a big breakthrough. Hopefully they are able to treat it soon.


  • This would be a fantastic cure to morning sickness if it works. And it won’t be harmful to Mum and Bub


  • ive definitely been more on the lucky side of things when it came to morning sickness. hopefully they will find the answer for others!


  • As a sufferer of HG, with the trauma of it still vivid after 22 years, I’m so glad that firstly women/mothers are being validated, and that secondly, if there’s anything that can be done, that’s a major breakthrough. I would have gone back for a second child if this was known.

    • Aw bless, sorry you had to go though that !


  • Would be great if they can treat it- some women suffer terribly!


  • Any research during pregnancy would need to be so carefully done. It makes me feel nervous.


  • Great news and I do hope it will be a safe cure. It is a misnomer to call it ‘morning sickness’ as I had it the whole day long. The mere smell of food and I would be ill. I fervently wish that this breakthrough will be a cure that works for all mothers to be.


  • That’s good news.
    I was lucking enough not to suffer morning sickness, but I know so many people who have and are suffering.


  • My morning sickness was very mild and didn’t last long. I hope they find a safe treatment for women who suffer with morning sickness.


  • I hope they research it very well before any treatments.


  • It’s significant that research sheds light on the causes of morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum, considering the potential risks for both mothers and babies. Understanding the underlying factors can lead to better management and support for pregnant women experiencing these symptoms. It also highlights the importance of continued research in maternal health to improve overall outcomes during pregnancy.


  • Wow! This would have been great when i had morning sickness. Hopefully after more trials it can help many women in the future


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