Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Nausea and Morning Sickness
Morning sickness affects well over half of all pregnant women, and often it is the first sign of pregnancy. Symptoms of morning sickness include nausea and vomiting, usually beginning around the sixth week of pregnancy and abating sometime after the twelfth week of pregnancy. Morning sickness is a normal reaction by the body to the increased hormone levels of pregnancy. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help alleviate the discomfort of morning sickness and encourage a healthier pregnancy.
How Can Traditional Chinese Medicine Help Nausea and Morning Sickness?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes a well-developed system of diagnosis and pathology based upon several thousand years of observation and study. From this foundational knowledge of Oriental Medicine comes the theory of Qi (vital energy) and the pathways through which Qi flows, called meridians. Good health is based upon the proper flow of Qi throughout all the meridians in the body. Several treatment methods to balance the body and alleviate symptoms of nausea and morning sickness are used by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and acupressure. Often, a combination of these treatments provides the most effective relief of nausea and morning sickness.
What Causes Nausea and Morning Sickness According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
When a woman becomes pregnant, the vital substances of her body, including the Essence, Blood and Kidney Qi, collect together to form the new life within her body. Often, this change causes an obstruction within the Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai) meridian of the body, leading to rebellious Qi of the Stomach rising up and causing nausea. From this pathological sequence, several patterns of disharmony can result within the body, Liver Qi Stagnation attacking the Stomach causes severe nausea and Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency are the cause of mild nausea. Depending on which pattern the practitioner observes within the body will determine the course of treatment.
Acupuncture for Nausea and Morning Sickness
Acupuncture is considered the most useful form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment for nausea and morning sickness. Depending on your specific presentation of symptoms, the acupuncturist will select the most effective points to relieve the nausea.
The most commonly used points for nausea and morning sicknes include the following:
- Pericardium 6 (P6) – Neiguan - is located in the first depression that falls between the two tendons running from your wrist to your elbow, approximately three fingerbreaths from the wrist crease. Numerous studies have been conducted to show the effectiveness of this point for nausea of all causes, and it is commonly used for self-treatment with acupressure. A consumer product made of wristbands that apply pressure to these points are available and commonly marketed for sea sickness prevention; however, the bands’ usefulness for morning sickness has been reported in numerous placebo-controlled studies.
- Stomach 36 (St 36) – Zusanli - is also another acupuncture point commonly used to calm the stomach and relieve nausea. This point is located four fingerbreaths beneath the kneecap, one fingerbreath beside the edge of the tibia bone on the shin. This point is effective for all disorders of the stomach and is useful to strengthen digestion and promote the generation of Qi within the body. One of the St 36’s functions is to descend the stomach Qi, which is the primary cause of nausea.
- GallBladder 34 (GB 34) – Yanglingquan – is an effective acupuncture point for alleviate patterns of morning sickness related to Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach. The acupuncture point is located on the lateral side of the lower leg, just below and in front of the head of the fibula bone. The point strongly moves stagnation in the abdomen and calms rebellious qi affecting the stomach, relieving nausea.
- Ren 12 (Rn 12) – Zhongwan – is another useful points for treating nausea. Located on the midline along the abdomen, midway between the meeting point of the ribs and the navel. Ren 12 is effective for deficient conditions of the Stomach and is commonly treated with moxibustion, a form of warming therapy.
While there are several acupuncture points that are contraindicated during pregnancy, licensed acupuncturists are properly trained to avoid the use of these points. Always inform your practitioner if you think you are pregnant. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine have a long history and success rate in treatment a variety of woman’s disorders, including morning sickness.
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Nausea and Morning Sickness
Chinese herbal medicine is one of the most popular forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment used today. Several hundred herbs are part of the Chinese pharmacopeia and are used to create thousands of different formulas for the treatment of disease. However, when treating morning sickness, many of these formulas are difficult to use. This is not due to endangering the pregnancy, but primarily due to the fact that during morning sickness many of the herbal decoctions are too unpleasant to drink. That said, several Chinese herbs and formulas are contra-indicted or cautioned during pregnancy; so always inform your practitioner if you are pregnant and only consume herbal medicine prescribed by an experienced practitioner.
Several Chinese herbs can be safely used during pregnancy, commonly used as food, widely available, and thankfully are more acceptable to the palate:
- Ginger – Sheng Jiang – Fresh ginger is a common herb used in Chinese medicine to help digestion, though it functions of warming the stomach, and reducing the toxicity of other herbs. It is commonly used in cooking throughout the world and it can help alleviate symptoms of morning sickness. Ginger can be drunk as a tea or taken in concentrated capsule form. Readily available are ginger snap cookies or biscuits and ginger ale that contain ginger and may help with the nausea of morning sickness.
- Cardamon Seed – Sha Ren – Cardamon is a very effective herb for treating morning sickness due to its function of calming the stomach, transforming phlegm, circulating the Qi, and stopping vomiting. Sha Ren is an ideal herb for morning sickness due to the additional function of “calming the fetus”, which means it is used for the prevention of miscarriage. Cardamon can also be ground and made into a tea, along with ginger, to alleviate nausea.
What is Morning Sickness?
Well over half of all women experience morning sickness during pregnancy, usually beginning around the 6th week and ending after the twelfth week of pregnancy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is an extreme form of morning sickness that occurs in about 1% of all pregnancies and is marked by excessive vomiting that can lead to dehydration. If you are experiencing significant nausea, always inform you primarily care physician immediately.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been in practice for over 5,000 years and includes herbal medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, dietary therapy, shiatsu massage, and other practices such as qigong. TCM is highly complex and based upon theories devised through observation of nature, the human body, and the cosmos. According to traditional Chinese medicine, all phenomena in the world are related by the opposing concepts of yin and yang. Yin and yang must be in a harmonious, dynamic balance to achieve optimal health. Yang refers to maleness, the bowels, heat, light, upward/outward movement, surface, and agitation. Yin refers to the opposite—femaleness, bones, organs, coldness, darkness, heaviness, downward/inward movement, and calmness. Both are necessary for life, yet the relationship between the two is in a constant state of flux.
The vital substances of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physiology that affect the yin and yang include:
- Blood: Blood underlies the nourishment of the functions of qi and is the physical manifestation of the woman.
- Bodily fluids: This includes all fluids in the body. They moisten the skin, hair, tissues, joints, and organs, and allow for smooth movement of joints and other body parts. Yin fluids are thick, lining the internal organs and cushioning the brain and spinal cord. Yang fluids are thinner, such as sweat, saliva and urine.
- Essence: This is the vital physical presence or spirit of the body and all physical elements that are responsible for determining physical growth and development.
- Qi: This refers to energy that propels all bodily functions and is responsible for the movement, transformation, warmth, and restraint of the blood.
What Risks are Associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Patients should be aware that Chinese herbs are not without possible side effects, including allergic reactions, direct toxic reactions, and interactions with other medicines. While there have recently been efforts to regulate dosages and use of Chinese herbs by some governments, the active ingredients of these medicines often have not been measured precisely. This can lead to variations among formulations and adds to the difficulties in evaluating and comparing trial results of these medicines. Consult a physician and/or a Chinese herbalist before taking any herbal formula.
“Morning Sickness and Chinese Medicine.” Askanase, Aaron, M.Ac., Lic. Ac.
“Gynecological and Obstetric Disorders.” Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Health Information Organization. 2005.