Sea Sickness: A medical story

30. June 2010

For ages seafarers suffer from it – and today 3D causes problems with sea sickness for cineastes. Proven remedies help but have side effects. According to a professor in Vienna however, there is a simple solution: Ascorbic acid.

This new technology has entered the movie theaters furiously – with movies taking the spectator on journeys through the air or into the depths of the oceans as realistically as never before. But 3D movies like “Avatar“ take some moviegoers so much with them that he or she sits there with stomach cramps, cold sweat and a pale face that they have to leave the movie long before it ends.

Pigs don’t get seasick

The irritations of sea sickness which is nothing but a “motion dizziness“, range from mild indisposition to complete gastric emptying. Here the sense of vision plays an important but not the only role. Also the blind can get seasick, but not for example deaf-mute people with a defective organ of equilibrium. Women are more sensitive than men. Rats and mice, even fish (if you turn the aquarium) suffer from a confusion of the senses – but pigs don’t. Why? Jarisch is convinced that this has to do with the histamine metabolism.

Since they are omnivores, pigs produce large amounts of the histamine-degrading enzyme diamine oxidase which makes it easier for them to process for example spoiled meat containing large histamine concentrations. Studies and animal experiments give clear indications that surplus histamine leads to the symptoms of sea sickness. If you block the degradation of the amino acid histidine to histamine in rats, they show no symptoms at all. Aminals with an inactivated histamine receptor react like that as well.

Contrary information from eye and inner ear

His eyes behind 3D glasses report to the spectator the flight through space while the body informs him or her that he/she is sitting comfortably in his/her chair in the movie theater – by proprioceptors and semicircular ducts. That again confuses the central control. In the movie theater happens exactly the opposite to what happens to tourists but also many old salts during the first days after the ship has departed. When the eye holds on to the seemingly steady contours of the ship but the sensors of our body permanently report irregular movements most of us get seasick. The lingo: Kinetosis.

Salty pretzels, warm coke, acupressure or ginger, even special glasses with a horizontal line are supposed to help against the nausea. Sensible people report that they even had the wish to die. Allegedly some passengers were lashed to the ship to stop them from jumping over board. A physician in Austria – rather far away from the sea – announced now to have found a simple cure against the disease. Simply take some ascorbic acid i. e. vitamin C and the trouble is gone. For a first test of his thesis, Reinhart Jarisch, head of the allergy center in Vienna-Florisdorf used the wave pool at the naval base in Neustadt (Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany). 50 men and 20 women tested their seaworthiness in a rubber life raft during high swell. Indeed, 23 of the test persons had to leave the raft before the 20-minutes storm was over. Also the histamine level in the blood of the test persons increased significantly. Thus it doesn’t come as a surprise that the majority of the regular remedies against sickness are antihistamines. Cinnarizin and Dimenhydrinat have proven themselves. Scopolamin is an antagonist for acetylcholine receptors, docking station for neurotransmitters in the brain. Both groups of active ingredients have side effects though, among others fatigue and clouding the sense of vision.

Histamine decrease with vitamin C?

Reinhart Jarisch’ recipe would have hardly any side effects. Even in higher dosages, vitamin C is mostly harmless. Experts assume that it participates directly or indirectly in the degradation of histamine. According to Jarisch it helps not only against nauseas on board but also against mastocytosis, where the body gets more histamine than it needs as well. There is a number of progress reports available about the effectiveness of vitamin C but no solid studies, not even the test in Neustadt changed that. Taking vitamin C showed significant effects only in women and test persons the age below 28 years when compared with placebos. In relation to all participants, the vitamin only tends to helped against nausea.

Nonetheless the naval medical institute is taking a long-term study with vitamin C into consideration. Until then old salts and physicians recommend to avoid everything that sets free a lot of histamine: Red wine, hard cheese, salami or chocolate. If you can afford it you have another option to lower your histamine level: During sleep histamine is degraded faster. But that might not be helpful against too much reality on the movie screen.

11 rating(s) (4.18 ø)


lek. Adam Mikolaj Szczeniowski
lek. Adam Mikolaj Szczeniowski

and what about Zofran (ondansetron)?

#4 |
Dhr Jelle Neirynck
Dhr Jelle Neirynck

Intresting article

#3 |

very good article
I will try Vit C

#2 |
Dr. Debra Hansen
Dr. Debra Hansen

good article

#1 |

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