New Study Reveals Hormone GDF15 as Main Cause of Severe Pregnancy Sickness

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New research has uncovered a significant breakthrough in understanding the causes of pregnancy sickness, including the severe condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. Scientists have identified an excess of a hormone called GDF15 as the main culprit behind these distressing symptoms. The study, which combines multiple lines of evidence, has finally settled the ongoing debate surrounding this issue.

Hormone GDF15 Main Cause of Severe Pregnancy Sickness

Nausea and vomiting are common during pregnancy, affecting around two-thirds of women. Contrary to popular belief, these symptoms can occur at any time of day and not just in the morning. Typically, they tend to subside after the first three months. However, in about 1 in 50 pregnancies, the symptoms can escalate to hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that makes it nearly impossible to eat and drink normally.

Role of GDF15

Researchers first discovered GDF15 in 1997, but it wasn't until 2017 that they found its connection to specific receptors in the brain, triggering nausea and vomiting. This led scientists to theorize that GDF15 evolved as a protective response to potential food poisoning, contributing to morning sickness. Subsequent studies in 2018 revealed a link between higher GDF15 levels and an increased risk of hyperemesis gravidarum.

Desensitization Effect: Pre-Pregnancy GDF15 Levels

The latest study delves deeper into this relationship, shedding light on the impact of GDF15 sensitivity based on pre-pregnancy levels. Women with higher pre-pregnancy GDF15 levels showed a desensitization to the hormone, making them less affected by elevated levels during pregnancy. This desensitization effect could explain why morning sickness tends to diminish after the first trimester. Interestingly, women who smoked before pregnancy, which raises GDF15 levels, were found to have a lower likelihood of developing hyperemesis gravidarum.
New Study Reveals Hormone GDF15 as Main Cause of Severe Pregnancy Sickness


To further investigate this desensitization theory, researchers conducted experiments on mice. They administered a long-lasting form of GDF15 to some mice and a placebo to others. After three days, all the mice were given a large dose of GDF15. The mice initially given the placebo showed reduced appetite and weight loss, while those previously exposed to GDF15 were less affected by the subsequent dose.

Beta Thalassemia and Hyperemesis Gravidarum

To validate these findings, the researchers surveyed women with a blood condition called beta thalassemia, which increases GDF15 levels. Only one woman with beta thalassemia reported experiencing nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, compared to 13 women in the control group. These results provide compelling evidence that altering GDF15 levels may be key to preventing hyperemesis gravidarum.

The study also paves the way for potential interventions using GDF15. Several pharmaceutical companies are currently developing antibodies that target GDF15 to treat conditions characterized by nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. Early-stage clinical trials have already shown promising results, with one company reporting reduced vomiting in monkeys. Ensuring the safety of these treatments for developing fetuses is a priority, and precautions can be taken to prevent antibodies from crossing the placenta.

Link Between GDF15 and Morning Sickness

Understanding the role of GDF15 in pregnancy sickness offers hope for pregnant women worldwide. By increasing GDF15 levels in high-risk individuals before pregnancy, medical professionals may be able to prevent the onset of hyperemesis gravidarum. Additionally, advancements in antibody-based treatments hold promise for improving the well-being of expectant mothers suffering from conditions triggered by GDF15.

It's important to note that the study discussed in this blog post has not yet undergone the peer-review process. However, its findings provide a solid foundation for further research and potential breakthroughs in addressing severe pregnancy sickness.

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