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motion sickness: mom and children on amusement ride

How To Prevent And Soothe Motion Sickness

If you’re among those who suffer from motion sickness, you know that the ensuing spins and nausea can put a full stop to an otherwise fun road trip or boating adventure. So what can you do to prevent a dizzy spell—or quell the queasiness should it strike? There are actually a handful of natural methods to stave off motion sickness, as well as remedies you can turn to for relief.

Why Do We Get Motion Sickness? 

About one in three people are highly susceptible to motion sickness, according to a study published in Human Molecular Genetics. But the underlying causes of this condition aren’t well-understood and there are some competing theories as to what causes it. 

One of the prevailing theories is that your body is simply confused when it’s being transported, explains the Cleveland Clinic. While traveling on a plane, train, automobile, or boat, your brain receives mixed signals from motion-sensing parts of the body, like the eyes, inner ears, muscles, and joints, and isn’t able to decipher if you’re stationary or moving. For instance, your body could be completely still inside of a car as you see passing trees out the window and your inner ear senses movement. The result of the confusion: You feel sick.

Another hypothesis that was put forth in the journal Science back in 1977 suggests that motion sickness is an evolutionary adaptation developed to protect ourselves from poison. Some toxins can affect your vestibular system, triggering a vomit response, which could be beneficial if you had been poisoned. Motion, whether in a car or on a carnival ride, also throws off your vestibular system, which could mean your body thinks it needs to detoxify and that’s why you have the sudden urge to lose your cookies. 

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What we do know is that some people are more prone to motion sickness, and the groups most likely to endure it are children ages two to 12 and women, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, some other factors that can increase your odds of motion sickness include a family history of motion sickness, taking hormonal birth control, inner ear disorders, menstrual periods, migraines, Parkinson’s disease, and pregnancy. The study in Human Molecular Genetics suggests that poor sleeping patterns can make people more prone to motion sickness, and other studies have shown that fit people are also highly susceptible because they have a more reactive autonomic system, which is a part of the nervous system that’s responsible for regulating things like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.

How To Prevent Motion Sickness

If you’re preparing for a trip or headed to an amusement park, it’s important to tap into your prior experiences and start by limiting or avoiding foods that typically cause you GI discomfort, says Emma Laing, Ph.D., R.D.N., director of dietetics at the University of Georgia and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

During or immediately before travel, stick to smaller, more frequent meals and snacks instead of larger ones to support digestion, Laing suggests. Focusing on bland, non-spicy foods (like low-sodium crackers, cereal, apples, or bananas) and curbing those that have a strong odor can help some people reduce the symptoms of motion sickness. 

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Before you get in motion, you’ll also want to be well-hydrated. Though many people tend to avoid drinking during travel to avoid frequent bathroom breaks, staying hydrated is super-important for combatting the symptoms of motion sickness, Laing says. You see, “mild dehydration can exacerbate feelings of motion sickness by contributing to headaches, dizziness, and lightheadedness,” she explains. “Sipping on cold beverages like still or carbonated water can be helpful, as well as minimizing your intake of caffeinated beverages and avoiding alcohol.” 

Plus, should your motion sickness get really bad, not drinking enough water coupled with vomiting could lead to severe dehydration, Laing adds.

Natural Ways To Soothe Motion Sickness

If you’re about to board a boat or go on a road trip, you may want to pack a few things that experts say can help relieve motion sickness. Here are four natural ways to ease the upset.

1. Ginger

Consuming ginger in small doses (think chopped, grated or powdered ginger root, crystallized ginger, or ginger tea) can ease symptoms associated with motion sickness by supporting digestion, Laing says. Researchers have also hypothesized that ginger can prevent gastric dysrhythmias, abnormal stomach rhythms that can cause discomfort. 

Though research results regarding ginger and motion sickness are inconsistent, there’s certainly no harm in giving this warming root a try, Laing says. Just check in with a healthcare provider first if you take any medications since ginger can react with certain drugs.

2. Chewing gum

Love gum? One study published in the journal Experimental Brain Research showed that chewing gum can help prevent motion sickness. “Both peppermint and ginger chewing gum were equally effective,” says dietitian Lindsey Delk, R.D., owner of Food and Mood Dietitian. “While it isn’t clear why this works, it could possibly be due to the distraction of the gum, as well as the pleasant taste.” Just try to go for a stick that’s naturally flavored and sweetened.

3. Chamomile Tea

If you have some lingering effects of motion sickness after a long car ride or a day at the theme park, studies suggest that chamomile tea can reduce stomach acids and relax stomach muscles, thereby soothing the stomach and working against nausea, says dietitian Kristin Gillespie, M.S., R.D., L.D., an advisor for Exercise With Style. A nice mug might be just what you need.

4. Licorice root lozenges

Thanks to its soothing properties, licorice root is commonly used to ease stomach discomfort and irritation, promote digestion, and help work against nausea and vomiting, Gillespie says. For this reason, licorice root lozenges may be a good go-to if you’re dealing with motion sickness. You can also find licorice root in a variety of herbal teas. (Just know that licorice root can interact with certain medications, so check in with a healthcare professional if you want to give it a try.)

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