Is there a scientific reason that pickles would help nausea?
January 19, 2019 7:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm recovering from a stomach bug and have been craving pickles like whoa. I've eaten two small meals today; both left me feeling nauseous, until I gave into my pickle craving. Is there any possible way that pickles could be helping with my nausea?

Thursday night, I quickly came down with a stomach bug and threw up 6 times. Friday, I had a low-grade fever all day, but was able to introduce some very small amounts of BRAT-compliant foods.

Today, the fever is gone and I'm actually feeling hungry. I've been specifically craving things that one probably shouldn't eat less than 48 hours after vomiting, namely pickles, tomato sauce, grapefruit, and other really salty/tangy/bitter/acidic things. I told myself that I needed to wait a few days before eating fun stuff.

For lunch, I tried eating an egg fried in a very small amount of butter along with some very lightly buttered toast. This left me nauseous within minutes, to the point that I thought I might throw up again. I was still craving pickles, so I threw caution to the wind (what does it matter if I'm gonna barf anyway?) and ate one. This cut the nausea almost immediately.

For dinner, same thing -- I had a bowl of cereal with almond milk and banana, felt gross, ate a pickle, felt better.

Is this a coincidence? All in my head? Or is there any scientific reason that pickles (or similar) would have a positive effect on nausea/stomach issues?
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pickles are salty - you may be low in salts. Have you been drinking Gatorade or Pedialyte? That would certainly help.
posted by Toddles at 7:50 PM on January 19 [11 favorites]

Pickles and pickle juice have a lot of electrolytes and are a common remedy for dehydration. Dehydration, very common after a stomach bug, isn't just lack of water, it's also lack of salts.

Not sure how dehydration interacts with nausea, but it seems reasonable to assume the salutary effect was due to replacing lost salts from the pickles.
posted by jeoc at 7:50 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]

People are obsessive these days about pickle juice being some kind of miracle drug for dehydration. They are NOT, you're far better off with sport drink or actual electrolyte supplements that contain measurable amounts of potassium and magnesium along with sodium, but in a pinch? Yeah, pickles have a lot of salt, with some sugar, in what is a palatable format for a lot of people.

If you have someone who can go get you some Powerade or Gatorade, SmartWater, Nuun, Zipfizz, you'll feel even better. If you can get your hands on magnesium(calcium)potassium, even better, but you're unlikely to find those at a brick and mortar store unless you have a running/extreme sportz kind of shop nearby.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

I believe you should listen to your cravings-- they are telling you something on a subconscious level about your body.

Also I remember the traditional Navy remedy for seasickness-induced nausea was Sprite and saltine crackers. That also does a good job replacing salt, sugar, hydration and a small ultra-bland infusion of carbs to get you back on your feet. You might try it.

But keep on with the pickles if they are working for you. Worst thing that will happen is that they come up again. But I sense I may be more inured to vomiting than you. I easily threw up more than a thousand times in my decade at sea. It's a natural body defense mechanism-- although you should be worried if you see blood or things in your vomit that look like coffee grounds. For that you should see a doctor right away. But otherwise, it will probably pass in a few days. Like I used to tell young sailors-- You won't die, although you may wish that you could. I hope you are feeling better soon!
posted by seasparrow at 9:48 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]

Could be that fermented foods (save for store-bought pickles) contain a number of microbes that can help replenish your gut fauna.
posted by JamesBay at 10:29 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]

Pickles have become a stereotype of a food craved by pregnant women. And pregnant women often have several weeks of nausea. I don't know if there is scientific evidence, but ice cream and pickles are known as classic cravings.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:30 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]

The fermented foods thing was my thought too. I went through a several-weeks phase of medication-induced nausea where (almost) all I wanted to eat was sauerkraut. I know store-bought pickles aren’t usually the fermented kind so I’m sort of spitballing here but...bodies are weird and we don’t know everything about how they work. Also, going through your list of things - salt and acid help prevent bacterial growth, maybe it’s some kind of subconscious ingrained reflex away from things likely to give you a stomach bug again?
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:26 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]

It’s sort of folk wisdom in pregnancy circles that sour things like pickles and vinegary things and lemons and lemonade will counteract nausea. The way it was unscientifically explained to me is that your brain can’t process the sour and the nausea at the same time.
posted by fancyoats at 4:49 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

I’ve certainly found that if I feel sick after running (when I’m presumably dehydrated), having something salty cuts through it quickly.
posted by penguin pie at 6:03 AM on January 20

Interesting stuff -- thanks for weighing in! I had no idea that pickles had any electrolytes. (Yes, I have been drinking Gatorade, but when you throw up six times, you probably need as much help as you can get to restore balance.) Upon reflection, everything I've been eating has been on the sweet side, so it's possible I'm low in salts as well.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 9:31 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

At RenFaire, we got told to try pickles on hot days - "if they taste sweet, you need more; eat some." If they taste sweet, it's a sign that your salt levels are low. (There are, as mentioned, likely better sources of nutritionally-balanced electrolytes and salts, but pickles are okay for the public to see; peasant women are not allowed to drink Gatorade in public.)

Potentially look into simple pickled veggies recipes; maybe the brine/vinegar is helping with your pH balance to fight the nausea.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:38 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, whenever I had digestive problems that *weren't* an ulcer or acid-specific, I've wanted to eat less-fatty foods, but the levels of spice or acid didn't seem to have an effect on me one way or the other. I'm not suggesting you douse your toast in tabasco, but I've definitely had occasions where a bit of tomato soup went down lots better than an egg.

Fattier foods (eggs, butter on the toast, maybe even the almond milk) also can make my stomach more upset sometimes. Your mileage may vary, of course. But (as long as we're talking about ordinary foods and an ordinary, if sucky, illness) take it slow and pay attention to what makes you feel better, not what conventional wisdom says "one probably shouldn't eat." Hope you feel better soon!
posted by pykrete jungle at 1:45 PM on January 20

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