Press here to quell that queasy feeling

Special to The Times

The products: Roller coasters, pregnancies and cancer drugs have one thing in common: They're all proven ways to get that queasy feeling. Once your stomach starts churning, you'll welcome relief wherever you can find it -- including, perhaps, the underside of your wrist.

Thousands of years ago, the Chinese started using acupressure to treat nausea. They would firmly press a spot just below the wrist -- known as the P6 point -- until the queasiness passed. Even today, a Chinese bus careening around winding roads will be full of passengers practicing acupressure on the fly.

In this country, the acupressure remedy for nausea has entered the modern age (which is another way to say that it involves a gadget and can cost you money). For about $10, you can buy a pair of Acuband or Sea-Band wristbands that claim to ease queasiness courtesy of a hard knob that, when positioned properly, sits over the acupressure target. The bands are widely available in drugstores, often next to the Dramamine.

The claims: Ads and packaging for both Acuband and Sea-Band claim that the wristbands can relieve nausea caused by motion sickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy. Ads for Acuband say you'll "never again be unprepared for the effects of nausea." The packaging for Sea-Band promises "effective relief . . . without causing drowsiness or other side effects."

The bottom line: Whether you wear a wristband or simply press the P6 point with your thumb, acupressure really can help ease motion sickness, morning sickness and nausea that follows chemotherapy, says Robert Stern, a professor of psychology at Penn State University who studies motion sickness and nausea. In a study published in 2001, for example, Stern and colleagues tested Acuband wristbands on subjects who had endured a session in a stomach-churning machine that uses spinning images to trigger motion sickness. As advertised, the bands helped fend off queasiness.

Wristbands have a couple of slight advantages over the thumb method, Stern says. People wearing a band may have an easier time finding their P6 point because once in place, the wristbands don't slip around, and the knob may help focus pressure.

Simply slipping on the band often brings quick relief, he says. But as the body gets used to the light pressure from the band, users will have to press on the knob to fend off nausea. "They should keep doing it until they feel better or until the waters calm down," he says.

But bands may not be needed. In July of this year, researchers published a study showing that hands-on acupressure -- without wristbands -- reduced nausea in women receiving hard-core chemotherapy for breast cancer. The technique didn't make a difference immediately after the chemo, but the benefits became apparent in the 10 days that followed. A control group of women who were taught to perform acupressure on a spot away from P6 didn't enjoy any such respite.

"It sounds like voodoo medicine," says Sue Dibble, a professor emeritus from the University of California at San Francisco School of Nursing and lead author of the study. She says that she didn't believe in the remedy until she reviewed the scientific literature and saw study after study showing that acupressure, with or without the wristbands, really worked for several nausea types. (The exceptions seem to be nausea caused by things like stomach viruses or bad clams.)

While wristbands might have some value, Dibble says, "I can say for sure that you can get relief without them."

The Healthy Skeptic tried using a pair of Sea-Band wristbands after some intense merry-go-round action at a local park. (He's not especially prone to motion sickness, but a few fast spins can usually get his stomach jumping.) Slipping on the wristbands didn't seem to help, and pressing on the knob merely felt uncomfortable. As Stern says, "It helps a lot of people, but not everybody."

The biology of nausea isn't well understood, and nobody knows why a spot on the forearm should have any effect on balky stomachs. Traditional acupressurists talk of qi (energy or life force that flows through the body), but Stern suspects the pressure on P6 hits a nerve that sends a calming message to the brain.

If you decide to try acupressure, make sure you're hitting the right spot. The P6 point lies three finger-widths below the top crease in the wrist, right between the two tendons.

Once you've found it, your next ferry trip to Catalina or ride on the Viper at Six Flags might be a little easier on your stomach.


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