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Why Does Hunger Cause Nausea?

It is often impossible to grab a healthy breakfast in the morning while you are hurrying out the door, late to a meeting. And once you reach the office, the busy schedules can often lead to you forgetting to grab a bite to calm your stomach. By the time you get time to eat something, it will be lunch hour and that is more than 15 hours after your last meal!

You would expect yourself to be hungry, instead, here you are feeling nauseous and wanting to throw up. That is not because the food repels you, but the hydrochloric acid in your stomach. And this is not just for skipping breakfast but any meal of the day.

So, Why Does Hunger Make You Feel Nauseous?

It is fairly simple to understand and there are more than one reasons that cause nausea. Firstly, your stomach produces hydrochloric acid for breaking down the food in your system. The broken-down food is then converted into energy and the rest is disposed of by your body. This is a long process, that occurs in a cycle - that is, when your body does not get food in the correct intervals, the hydrochloric acid can build up in the stomach [1] .

The built-up hydrochloric acid gets accumulated in your oesophagus and cause acid reflux, heartburn and nausea, studies support [2] .

Also read: Healthy Foods That Help Control Hunger Pangs

Secondly, studies link nausea from hunger to one' body's network of signals for knowing when to eat. That is, your body signals your brain when it requires food, which is regulated by the endocrine system which is encompassed of the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland and the pancreas. Also, the endocrine system uses the bloodstream for chemical communication that is, it helps give your body the energy it needs to keep the chemical levels balanced.

Consequently, when your body expects food, your stomach releases ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel so hungry that you get nauseous. In other words, you need calories to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and support a wide range of bodily activities. For this, your body sends signals to the endocrine system that trigger the release of the hormones leptin and the aforementioned ghrelin [3] .

The hormone ghrelin causes hunger and leptin counters ghrelin by decreasing your appetite. These two hormones function in a complementary manner when your body is in a normal state (i.e. when you eat food on time) and they auto-regulate [2] [4] . But, when one fails to eat food at the right intervals, the chemical balance of the hormones would get affected, resulting in the over-production of ghrelin - the way your body is reminding you to eat some food.

Here are some ways to get rid of that abhorrent feeling of nausea [5] .

High Levels Of Hormones Can Cause Nausea

As aforementioned, failing to consume food at the right time can affect the hormone balance in your body. While ignoring the hunger pangs and not eating, your body will naturally produce a large amount of ghrelin which in most people will result in developing nausea [6] . Some people, not all, have higher sensitivities to hormonal levels wherein a variation in the sensitivity levels can result in the people experiencing nausea while they are hungry [7] .

Likewise, while our body is on low blood sugar due to lack of food, the immediate response is to dump adrenaline into our systems to boost the energy levels. However, this fight or flight response causes the body to convert stored glycogen into its usable form glucose, which in turn induce nausea and vomiting.

The imbalance of the hormones and an empty stomach are also responsible for inducing headaches, another culprit that leaves you feeling nauseous [8] .

Nausea With Pain Indicates Metabolic Syndrome

Lack of food or untimely consumption leading to nausea is normal. However, if the symptoms are intense that is, if the nausea is associated with pain, it could be an indication of metabolic syndrome. A metabolic syndrome is a group of health conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes [9] [10] .

The different type of metabolic conditions includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

So, the next time you want to skip your breakfast or lunch, think about - and avoid that nauseating feeling that could ruin your whole day!

View Article References
  1. [1] Greenough, A., Cole, G., Lewis, J., Lockton, A., & Blundell, J. (1998). Untangling the effects of hunger, anxiety, and nausea on energy intake during intravenous cholecystokinin octapeptide (CCK-8) infusion. Physiology & behavior, 65(2), 303-310.
  2. [2] Almiron-Roig, E., & Drewnowski, A. (2003). Hunger, thirst, and energy intakes following consumption of caloric beverages. Physiology & behavior, 79(4-5), 767-773.
  3. [3] Hoelzel, F. (1927). Central factors in hunger. American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content, 82(3), 665-671.
  4. [4] Dupuis, L. L., Lu, X., Mitchell, H. R., Sung, L., Devidas, M., Mattano Jr, L. A., ... & Kadan‐Lottick, N. S. (2016). Anxiety, pain, and nausea during the treatment of standard‐risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: A prospective, longitudinal study from the C hildren's O ncology G roup. Cancer, 122(7), 1116-1125.
  5. [5] Törnblom, H., & Abrahamsson, H. (2016). Chronic nausea and vomiting: insights into underlying mechanisms. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 28(5), 613-619.
  6. [6] Rao, V., Bala, I., Jain, D., & Bharti, N. (2017). Effect of intravenous dextrose administration on postoperative nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy: a randomised controlled trial. European Journal of Anaesthesiology (EJA), 34(10), 705-707.
  7. [7] Ham, K. (2015). Headache, oedema and nausea: 2 case reports. Reactions, 1559, 21-11.
  8. [8] Pucci, A., Cheung, W. H., Jones, J., Manning, S., Kingett, H., Adamo, M., ... & Hashemi, M. (2015). A case of severe anorexia, excessive weight loss and high peptide YY levels after sleeve gastrectomy. Endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism case reports, 2015(1).
  9. [9] Stanghellini, V., Chan, F. K., Hasler, W. L., Malagelada, J. R., Suzuki, H., Tack, J., & Talley, N. J. (2016). Gastroduodenal disorders. Gastroenterology, 150(6), 1380-1392.
  10. [10] Consolim-Colombo, F. M., Sangaleti, C. T., Costa, F. O., Morais, T. L., Lopes, H. F., Motta, J. M., ... & Satapathy, S. K. (2017). Galantamine alleviates inflammation and insulin resistance in patients with metabolic syndrome in a randomized trial. JCI insight, 2(14).
Story first published: Monday, October 28, 2019, 17:00 [IST]
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