When you’re dealing with an upset stomach, it’s hard to focus on much else. But persistent nausea can be more than uncomfortable, it could signal a greater health concern. Some causes, like early pregnancy or food poisoning are well-documented. We're learning about other factors, however, that contribute to the microbiome and can be affecting gut health and overall wellbeing. If you suffer from chronic nausea or wonder why you’re feeling nauseous all the time, you might need to examine your lifestyle.
Acupuncturist and founder of Vie Healing, Mona Dan says, “Nausea, surprisingly, is the exact thing that sparked my interest in getting into Chinese medicine.” She was sick for months before she discovered acupuncture, which was able to settle her stomach. “It took three sessions with an acupuncturist for me to finally get relief,” she says. Today, Dan helps patients examine diet and lifestyle factors that might be contributing to an unhealthy gut experience.
Ahead, we discuss the common and more elusive causes of nausea, and offer suggestions on how to curb the unpleasantness and find relief.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Kate Denniston is a licensed naturopathic doctor and the founder of Los Angeles Integrative Health in California.
- Lisa Richards is a renowned nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. She's considered an expert on gut imbalances in the nutrition and digestion spheres.
- Serena Poon is a leading chef, nutritionist and reiki master. Poon founded the method of Culinary Alchemy, which is a combination of education, integrative and functional nutrition, and healing energy.
- Mona Dan is an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine expert, as well as the founder of Vie Healing. She holds a Masters in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Emperor's College of Traditional Oriental Medicine.
You're Eating Too Many Processed Foods
"Eating foods that are high in fat or highly processed can aggravate your gastrointestinal tract, leading to discomfort and nausea," says Poon.
"Food allergies can also cause nausea," Poon continues. "Some common food allergies include: milk, eggs, nuts, and shellfish. A gluten intolerance can also lead you to feel nauseous." If you think your diet might be the culprit, Poon suggests a diet that is rich in plant foods, lean proteins, and whole grain. She urges people to avoid inflammatory foods for a little while to see if there is an improvement. Poon adds, "I recommend that most of my clients take a high-quality probiotic and prebiotic to keep their gut microbiomes healthy and balanced."
Dan concurs that diet is rudimentary when it comes to good gut health. "What we eat creates an environment in our body," she says. "Avoid spicy, sugary, greasy, too cold and too hot foods will really help with relaxing the nervous system." She encourages a diet of bland foods like oatmeals, barley, and potatoes to support the body when suffering from nausea.
Your Microbiome Is Imbalanced
Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet says an unhealthy microbiome can be an underlying cause for nausea. "Nausea is one of many symptoms associated with Candida overgrowth." Candida overgrowth, Richards explains, will cause gut flora to become imbalanced. "As well as weakening your immunity, this can really affect the way that your body digests food."
You Have Chronic Gastrointestinal Issues
A common GI issue results from reflux, which can cause persistent nausea: "Nausea presents frequently with gastroesophageal reflux disease. This occurs when the sphincter muscle on top of the stomach doesn't close properly, allowing stomach acid to reach the esophagus," says Dr. Kate Denniston, a licensed naturopathic doctor and the founder of Los Angeles Integrative Health.
Poon adds that other chronic GI issues that cause nausea include ulcers, GERD, Crohn's disease, and leaky gut syndrome.
You're Taking Supplements on an Empty Stomach
“Taking your daily vitamin on an empty stomach can make you feel nauseous. Also, supplements that are high in iron, such as prenatal vitamins, can lead to feelings of nausea. Eat a small meal each time you take a supplement. It’s also a good idea to try out a few brands to see if you react differently to other formulations,” says Poon.
Zinc in particular, according to Denniston, is known to "make people queasy." She advises to take with food.
Your Hormones Are Out of Whack
Hormone imbalances may cause nausea in women. Denniston says, "Often there's an imbalance of estrogen, progesterone, cortisol or insulin which can result in nausea."
During early pregnancy, women's bodies are flooded with human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone, which is highly correlated with nausea. According to Cleveland Clinic, more than 70 percent of pregnant women suffer from nausea.
You Have Endometriosis
"Nausea can occur in endometriosis, which is when uterine-like tissue grows outside of the uterus," Denniston notes. "The tissue may develop in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or colon causing pain in the pelvis, especially during menstrual cycles." She adds that other signs of endometriosis include pain with sex and heavy bleeding.
You Have Stress or Anxiety (or Both)
Denniston says, “People may not realize they are actually feeling uneasy about a stressor in their life until they notice physical symptoms like nausea, heart palpitations, chest pain, or abdominal pain.”
Poon also cites the gut-brain connection, adding, "Any type of emotional distress can lead to a disruption in your stomach that may include feelings of nausea."
Chinese medicine defines dampness as an imbalance in the body caused by excess fluid, which can manifest as inflammation, sluggishness, and nausea. Dan explains. "Dampness can increase the sensations of inflammation in the body because it’s harder for blood to flow when the body is holding onto fluid."
Exhaustion stresses the body, "just like when it’s humid out and most people feel sluggish," says Dan. Dampness can increase feelings of fatigue, which may be associated with nausea.
"Taking the time to reset the nervous system with systems like acupuncture really help shift the body from that fight or flight mode into processing mode which helps process through the dampness and alleviate nausea."
It Could Be Food Poisoning or a Virus
Even the thought of contracting a parasite might make you queasy. Food borne bacteria and viruses, are, unfortunately a reality that might be making you sick. "While nausea from food poisoning and an illness like the flu will likely subside in a few days," explains Poon, "you could have a parasite, commonly contracted from traveling, children or pets, for months without realizing. Visit your doctor for the best treatment for these conditions."
Seeking medical attention is paramount when dealing with chronic nausea, as you want to rule out some of the more serious aforementioned causes, or address with a remedy that not only offers relief, but keeps wellness, and your gut, in check. The only way to know for sure what's causing your nausea is to visit your doctor, and a doctor alone can diagnose accurately and prescribe treatments. And as always, talk to your doctor before you try any supplements or at-home remedies.
Cleveland Clinic. Morning sickness: 9 popular myths and truths. Updated February 22, 2018.