I’m the latest victim of a bug one of our boys brought home last week. One of the main highlights of this particular bug is vomiting. Too much information? Be grateful this is the only highlight I’m sharing. 😉 Curious about all that this highlight had to offer, I couldn’t help but think to myself, Why on Earth do we vomit? If you’ve ever wondered about this as well, read on.
Sure, I understand how if you eat food that’s taken a turn for the worse or ingest something poisonous, it’s natural for the body to want to get it out of your system as quickly as possible. This kind of vomiting makes sense. But what are the other reasons the body has for throwing up?
Before we get to the reasons, let’s talk about the process. It all starts when the vomiting center of the brain is stimulated. Yup, the brain has a vomiting center. The more scholarly name for it is the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ), or the area postrema, which is located in the fourth ventricle of the brain and lies outside of the blood-brain barrier. Hmm, how ’bout that?!
What causes the CTZ to be stimulated? As noted above, the most common reasons are norovirus (aka plain old stomach flu) and food poisoning. However, we can lay the blame on plenty of other culprits. Here are some of the more familiar ones:
Gag reflex: When the back of your throat gets irked, the vagus nerve sends a signal, and your gag reflex kicks in. Bring on the vomiting.
Motion sickness: The vestibular system of the inner ear sends a message when you’re experiencing something like motion sickness. We’ve all been there, right?!
Stress: Yes, even stress can make you vomit by setting off your dopamine receptors.
Moving along, let’s look at the fascinating stages of vomiting. Once the CTZ receives its signal, your body goes through the following phases:
Nausea: You know this one: the cold sweat, the extra saliva in your mouth. It makes you want to vomit. And while nausea often does induce vomiting, sometimes it stops right here.
Retching: This is the “strong, involuntary effort to vomit,” which involves the contraction of the abdominal muscles, chest wall, and diaphragm. But nothing comes up quite yet.
Vomiting: You’ve reached your destination: “the forceful expulsion of the contents of the gastrointestinal system out through the mouth.” It may feel like your stomach and esophagus is doing all the work during this phase, but in fact the heavy lifting is done by the diaphragm and abdominal muscles contracting…and up it comes.
Should you want to arm yourself with a few tricks to avoid proceeding through all three phases, I find that ginger or peppermint tea can offer some relief. I simply choose whichever one sounds more appealing in the moment. You can also keep ginger or peppermint essential oils on hand to keep your nausea in check. Just take a few whiffs straight from the bottle, if that’s all you can muster. For yet another tool in your holistic health toolbox, familiarize yourself with the acupressure points known to alleviate nausea and vomiting.
In many cases, you can’t do all that much to stop this process once it’s begun. That was the case for me this time, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try.
Bam! Self-Health Educated! 🙂
Isn’t it grand that we started with the initial question of why we vomit but were able to learn so much more?
Image from iStock/stevanovicigor.