Unearthing Causes and Exploring Prevention
BY Mary Barnett
My friends and family all know that I suffer from debilitating morning sickness when pregnant. The kind that lasts all day and night, feels like food poisoning that never ends for months, and renders one incapable of leading a normal life. I have suffered this kind of extreme morning sickness with all my pregnancies except for Becky’s (more on that later). I am currently expecting our 8th child. In other words, I have been through this horrible morning sickness thing many times. I have also connected with other ladies suffering from NVP (nausea and vomiting in pregnancy) and HG (hyperemesis gravidarum). Having suffered from HG for collectively a couple of years of my life, I have studied this subject intensely since my first pregnancy in 2001, desperate to find some logical explanation, and then hopefully, a cure.
Having said all that, I am beyond thrilled to tell you that I am certain I have found both the underlying cause, as well as the cure for morning sickness, ranging anywhere from mild to severe. Obviously, I didn’t come up with the puzzle or any of it’s pieces, I just finally put it all together, thanks to the work and insight of too many others to name.
Without further ado, let’s jump in both feet first: The root cause of morning sickness (any severity): Heliobacter pylori
H. pylori is a bacteria that lives in the stomachs of as many as half of the world’s population. Interestingly enough, one study found that 100% of women with HG that were biopsied tested positive for it. In recent years, there have been multiple studies making the connection between H. pylori colonization, and morning sickness.
H. pylori does not always obviously affect those who carry it adversely.
Much like any bacteria in our body, such as candida, as long as they are kept in check, they may never pose a problem. However, there are certain triggers that send it into “high gear,” one of those triggers being hormonal swings (such as those experienced during early pregnancy). Certain foods, like simple carbs and for some people, red meats, can also cause it to flare up. When it does, nausea and vomiting are the end result, though individuals are affected differently based on their overall health, diet, sensitivity, etc.
In a vicious cycle, when H. pylori has been triggered, it exacerbates hormonal swings due to its effects on the hypothalamus–explaining why HG feels like slipping into a hole that seems virtually impossible to climb out of.
And so, we are presented with two options:
Eradicating the h. pylori:
This is a lot easier said than done. H. pylori lives mostly in the lower part of the stomach, in spite of the acidic environment, where it actually thrives.
The conventional approach is to take a course of extremely powerful antibiotics. From what I have read, these cannot be taken while pregnant or breastfeeding, and of course come with the typical downsides and side effects of antibiotics. They are also not guaranteed to work–they may or may not be successful at ridding you of the h. pylori. If they do, you may become colonized again in the future. However, HG moms who have successfully followed through with the antibiotics, typically report a complete absence of nausea with the next pregnancy. So if this is a route you are thinking about, it’s definitely worth looking into and discussing with your care provider.
Personally, I wanted to explore natural ways of trying to eradicate, or at least reduce, h. pylori before resorting to antibiotics. While I didn’t find anything relating to morning sickness specifically, many who suffer from negative effects due to h. pylori colonization have reported great success with colloidal silver.
Much has been written already on the benefits, safety, and effectiveness of colloidal silver. It is, in a nutshell, a natural antibiotic. Many have heard of zinc being helpful for fighting colds–silver is much, much more effective. I don’t feel a need to rewrite information here that can easily be found all over the web.
To eradicate h. pylori, the recommended dose is 1 teaspoon, three times daily, on an empty stomach. This is safe even during pregnancy. In my personal experience, I had to up the dose to 1 tablespoon multiple times per day during the peak of my hormonal swings, but then again, my stomach was only empty first thing in the morning, as being pregnant and having an empty stomach don’t go together well. Having food in the stomach takes away much of the effectiveness of the colloidal silver.
For those not currently pregnant, an even more powerful approach is to couple taking the colloidal silver with a capsule of turmeric, so 1 teaspoon colloidal silver plus one turmeric capsule, three times per day, on an empty stomach. This is to be continued for about 10 days. (Turmeric can irritate the uterus, and is not advised during pregnancy except in small amounts for cooking.) The colloidal silver and turmeric coupled create a very hostile environment for the h. pylori. It is further advised to reduce any trigger foods during this time (i.e. simple carbs like sugar and flour) to give the h. pylori nothing to feast on. I did not do this prior to this pregnancy, but plan on giving this a try after the baby is born.
The symptoms of h. pylori die-off are very similar to those of candida die-off, but typically do not extend beyond three days at the most: stomach pains, intestinal upset and gas, and headaches. It is likely you may not suffer any of these, unless you have a serious abundance of h. pylori in your system.
Again, killing off the h. pylori completely, especially with natural methods, is not easy, and may even be impossible depending on the individual. However, it is not necessary to kill it all off, just so long it is brought into balance, and then kept that way.
Getting and keeping the h. pylori in check:
This is actually very doable. In addition to the colloidal silver, which will successfully combat h. pylori, even if it cannot completely eradicate it, the main key to keeping h. pylori in check is: fermented foods and beverages.
Before modern methods of refrigerating foods, fermentation was universally used to prevent foods from spoiling. In fact, in many parts of the world, that is still the case. This would explain why hyperemesis is a bane that seems to affect mostly first-world nations in the last century or so. Before that, HG was incredibly rare–those suffering from it may have been people with an extreme dislike for fermented food, or rare underlying intestinal issues.
What are fermented foods and beverages?
milk: cheese, kefir, yogurt, cultured buttermilk/butter, quark, and many other products that don’t even have names in English, because they are unheard of here.
vegetables: pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled tomatoes/carrots/corn/peppers, and just about any other vegetable you can think of. In Hungary, my favorite was pickled watermelon rinds. It is important to note that 99% of what is sold in grocery stores as “pickled” is NOT truly pickled, i.e. fermented. Rather, a fermented taste is imitated by canning the vegetables in a vinegar brine. Such pickles will NOT yield the desired effect of combating morning sickness. To see if something is truly fermented, check the ingredients: if it contains vinegar, it is not pickled. The only ingredients should be the vegetable, water, salt, and spices.
Since pickling in a barrel/crock is a lost art for most of us, here are my recommendations for high-quality pickled products that can be bought ready: “Bubbies” for pickles (not all their products are pickled, some are vinegar brine, so always check labels), and “Eden Foods” for raw, organic sauerkraut.
condiments: lacto-fermented salsa, catsup, mustard, etc. Before modern convenience foods, these condiments used to only ever be fermented. I have not seen these ready-made, but they are not hard to make at home by simply adding whey to store-bought condiments, and fermenting them that way.
grain: sourdough bread, crackers, biscuits, pancakes, and even sweets like cake and cookies. Sourdough was the standard leaven used in raised breads and baked goods for thousands of years before the advent of commercial yeast (which is candida albicans, and comes with its own set of problems), baking soda, and baking powder.
sodas/beverages: ginger ale (truly fermented, not just carbonated), root beer, fermented lemonade, water kefir, fermented coconut water, kombucha (fermented tea). Did you know that before modern carbonation created the cheap imitations we find on shelves nowadays, these were once everyday drinks that our grandmothers brewed at home in their own kitchens? The carbonation in these drinks was a natural byproduct of fermentation, and actually increased with age, rather than going “flat” like today’s sodas. Also, unlike today’s sodas that have zero nutritional value, these traditional drinks (like all fermented foods) are packed with beneficial enzymes, probiotics, vitamins, and nutrients only found in “living” foods.
vinegar: while white and malt vinegars are NOT going to help your nausea because they are produced through distillation, apple cider vinegar is made through fermentation, and thus, is very helpful for treating morning sickness. My favorite way to drink it is to add 1 tsp apple cider vinegar and 1/2 tbsp raw honey to 1 quart of ice water. This way, the flavor is very subtle, but unlike just straight-up water, I can actually drink large quantities of this without getting sick to my stomach. Getting enough fluids and staying hydrated is key to averting nausea. Many women report eliminating their morning sickness simply through adding apple cider vinegar to their drinking water.
To learn about fermenting/culturing foods at home in your own kitchen, as well as obtaining starters and equipment, the #1 site on the web I recommend is “Cultures for Health.” They offer such an incredible wealth of information on their website, it would be impossible to link to every great article here. I also highly recommend signing up for their weekly newsletter, which is the only newsletter I read regularly, and actually look forward to because I always learn something new. They offer a whole host of e-books on their website, for free, in exchange for signing up for the newsletter. These books are truly treasure troves of knowledge that has largely been lost in the last few generations. You can also check out their YouTube channel for great instructional videos.
Also, many libraries carry a number of books on fermented foods, and how to prepare them at home.
What is it that pregnant women are rumored to crave? Pickles! Wow, there might actually be some truth in that, dating back to when pickles were, well, pickled! How about “pickles and ice cream?” Maybe that stems from the fact that sweets like ice cream will flare up the h. pylori, creating a craving for pickles to offset the negative effects.
It should be noted that the ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) recommends not consuming fermented foods during pregnancy: They have no problem prescribing drugs for morning sickness, but please, step back from the sauerkraut! Never mind the fact that pregnant women in virtually all other countries (European countries included) eat plenty of fermented foods, and none of them have the same numbers of moms suffering from HG that we are seeing. As always, there is a lot more profit to be had in drugs than in whole food alternatives.
There are many theories out there regarding the underlying cause for morning sickness, but upon closer examination, they all match up with the h. pylori theory, and the cure of fermented foods:
Hormonal fluctuations: HUGE trigger for the h. pylori. Between weeks 12 to 16, the placenta takes over making most of the hormones for baby, thus finally allowing mom to get her own hormone levels back in balance. Some moms that are especially sensitive will continue to experience nausea until after birth, or even during their whole time of breastfeeding. Many report feeling sick around the time each month that their cycles start, which is another major hormonal shift.
Carbs: Carbs are often thought of as a culprit to morning sickness, and indeed, they can be, especially simple carbs. Remember, that’s what the h. pylori feeds on. Since going zero-carb is neither desirable nor feasible, it is important to switch to complex carbs that have been properly prepared through souring, and/or sprouting, and/or soaking (the three S’s). White sugar and flour should be eliminated completely. Raw honey has, in my experience, not caused any negative effects as far as aggravating the h. pylori, so that is what I use. If I do end up eating simple carbs (like potatoes or pasta), I am sure to have a side of fermented foods with it, or a fermented drink.
Vitamin B deficiency: Fermented foods are FULL of B vitamins, which can otherwise be hard to come by through natural food sources in the Standard American Diet. Taking synthetic vitamins can never mimic that effect. Furthermore, consuming grains that have not been properly prepared through the three S’s, as well as conventional sodas with their phosphoric acid, will leach the body of many nutrients, especially minerals. So consuming simple carbs in the form of conventional breads and sodas will not only feed the h. pylori, it will also de-mineralize the body. Fermented foods will not only stop this downward process, but will actually replenish your body with the nutrients necessary for a healthy pregnancy.
Magnesium: As I explained in the previous point, being deficient in this or any critical mineral is certainly a contributing factor to morning sickness. However, I believe it is just one of the symptoms of the effects of being nutritionally deficient, rather than the actual root cause of morning sickness. Taking a high quality magnesium supplement, using a topical spray, or taking baths with magnesium salts will certainly be helpful in offsetting the negative effects of inadequate mineral intake from diet alone. Again, properly preparing grains will not only increase their available nutrient content, but also stop them from de-mineralizing the body.
Being pregnant with a girl/boy: Most moms will report having very different cravings based on the gender of the baby. Many women will find themselves craving simple carbs much more with a girl than with a boy, leading to the old wives fable that girl pregnancies tend to cause worse morning sickness.
Number of pregnancies: Many moms report their morning sickness becoming worse, and lasting longer, with each subsequent pregnancy. This can be attributed to the h. pylori gaining more and more of a stronghold as it goes unchecked year after year.
Stress/ fatigue: aggravating factors, because your body is dealing with additional hormones. Who here has ever felt sick to their stomach from being upset, angry, or plain stressed? Case in point.
Now my personal experience: like many of the other moms suffering from hyperemesis, my “morning sickness” in the past did not just disappear when the first trimester ended. In fact, it seemed to last about 2 weeks longer with each additional pregnancy. With Stephen, it was still flaring up past the 20th week, though typically only after eating a meal. It was at this time that I first made the h. pylori connection. I started eating a small amount of sauerkraut before every meal, and after a few days of that, never got sick again, even after discontinuing the sauerkraut. My body had finally gotten back in balance.
However, when my cycles returned months ago, they were always preceded by several days of nausea that was every bit like morning sickness. So hormones were definitely at play. Again, the sauerkraut, and at this point also kefir, sourdough bread, and kombucha, would always do the trick of getting me back on track.
This success is what finally allowed me to put together the puzzle pieces. In retrospect, I finally figured out why my pregnancy with Becky had been so easy by comparison: When I was newly pregnant with her (about 5 weeks along), our family took a trip to Europe for 10 days. While we were there, I ate many, many more fermented foods than I ever did at that time here in the States. The main reason for this was that these were foods I could only get over there: a certain brand of sourdough bread, fermented veggies that were a staple at every meal, real, delicious Hungarian sauerkraut, all my dearly missed European yogurt varieties that don’t even exist here, etc. This allowed my body to get into balance by the time we returned, at least enough to stave off any future nausea by simply taking ginger extract (which has a similar effect on the h. pylori in the stomach as turmeric, and is safe during pregnancy). While I did have some nausea during that pregnancy, it was virtually nothing compared to what I had experienced in the past. Another pregnancy during which I had gone to Germany was Isaac’s, and he was the second easiest after Becky. Actually, I had gone there shortly before becoming pregnant with him, so the effect was not as noticeable because the benefits of the fermented foods had started wearing off.
By contrast, those pregnancies that were the worst as far as morning sickness, were also the babies who struggled most with thrush (candida) as babies, as evidenced by white flecks in their mouth. John even had eczema from it. Candida thrives in the same conditions as h. pylori, so it makes sense that if one was thriving, so was the other.
I was a bit anxious to try the cure on an actual pregnancy, with all the extreme hormonal swings that being pregnant entails. It has been a very interesting experiment! I wouldn’t say that I am having no nausea. About 50% of the time I feel normal, and the rest of the time I feel slightly green, but functional (though more tired and less energetic than usual). If a lot of bad trigger factors culminate, I might even have an episode of actually throwing up, though I have not had more than one per day, on maybe one or two days per week (compared to throwing up 20+ times per day). I also must add that I believe my nausea would be eradicated completely if I were vigilant in combating it 100% of the time.
My situation right now reminds me of peace in the Middle East–it’s a very delicate balance, one that takes constant attention and directing. My plan is to try and kill off all or most of the h. pylori in my body after this pregnancy, but the methods for doing so do not agree with pregnancy and probably even exclusive breastfeeding. So for now, my main focus is learning to live in relative harmony with h. pylori and its effects on me while pregnant.
When I do get sick, it always seems preventable, like eating too many simple carbs, allowing myself to get too hungry, skipping my daily nap, not getting outdoors, etc. It is also usually coupled with me not taking colloidal silver regularly, and letting up on making sure I get fermented foods with every meal. I simply get sick of eating pickles and sauerkraut while I feel great. Since prevention is key, and it is a lot easier to treat the nausea before it starts, I have learned to watch for subtle clues, such as starting to develop that funny, typical weird taste in my mouth that many pregnant women are familiar with. Another early warning sign is when I stop being able to tolerate straight up water.
My daily routine is to drink a half cup or so of kombucha every morning upon waking, or to take 1 tablespoon of colloidal silver. I don’t do both because I think the CS might render the microorganisms in the kombucha ineffective. I always wake up slightly sick in the morning, but sitting down and sipping the kombucha or taking the CS on an empty stomach takes the nausea away, and allows me to cook breakfast for the crew and then eat a real meal myself.
Then throughout the day, I just drink kombucha here and there, because it is simply the easiest, tastiest, and most effective way to get something fermented into me. If I just cannot stand the thought of anything else fermented, I might do a tablespoon of CS instead. If I do, I always try to take it before a meal, while my stomach is at its emptiest, so it can have the maximum effect.
My worst time of the day is typically from 3-6 pm: after I wake up from my nap, until I finally get dinner into me. It’s just a busy time in our household, and taking a nap always makes me groggy and a little sick.
Overall, even at my worst times, I would say my nausea has been about 10% of what it would normally be, but I have many times when I feel completely normal. I am also not feeling panicked as I have in the past, knowing that as soon as I get back on track with my eating and natural remedies, I can completely reverse the nausea, and do not need to go down the terrible path of hyperemesis.
Not having to deal with extreme food cravings and aversions, as well as not having that horrible taste in my mouth 24/7, has also been a major blessing, because I have been able to continue grocery shopping, cooking, and meal planning as usual. You know, as opposed to sending my husband on a midnight run to fulfill some post-nausea craving, only to find I couldn’t tolerate it by the time he got back to the house with it… Stranger yet, one of my favorite pastimes this pregnancy has been to search the food board on Pinterest, watch cooking shows on Amazon, read cooking magazines, and otherwise “window shop” for delicious new meal ideas. Compare that to throwing up at the sight of any food billboard or restaurant flyer in the mail!
I believe that women who just suffer the “garden variety” of morning sickness, rather than full-blown HG, will find their nausea completely disappearing even if they are much less vigilant than I am. There are many women online testifying that their morning sickness disappeared completely after they started drinking kombucha.
On the other hand, women whose HG is worse than mine would need to be much more vigilant than I am, and ideally seek to eradicate the h. pylori before pregnancy. For these moms, any grains that have not been properly prepared (3 S’s) as well as simple carbs are totally off-limits. Only you will know what works best for you in your exact case.
In closing, my advice is:
– If you are not currently pregnant, and typically suffer from HG, make an aggressive effort to kill off or at least greatly reduce the h. pylori in your body by taking colloidal silver 3 x day on an empty stomach, coupled with turmeric and/or ginger capsules, for 10 days while cutting out all simple carbs, and incorporating as many fermented foods and beverages as you can handle. Try to start this regimen on a weekend or when your spouse will be around to help, in case you get severe die-off symptoms. If/when you do get pregnant, follow the point below.
– If you currently are pregnant: Congratulations! You can still make this work! Like me, you will just have to stay on top of it all the time, and learn exactly what helps you the most, what your nausea triggers are and how to avoid them, what your early warning signs of impending nausea are, which ferments work best for you, etc. Also take care to build up your nutritional status by taking fermented cod liver butter oil, a high-quality magnesium supplement (and/or topical magnesium sprays and/or epsom salt baths). When you are no longer pregnant or exclusively breastfeeding, follow the point above.