Unlocking the Genetic Code of Motion Sickness

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Unlocking the Genetic Code of Motion Sickness

Date of Content: December 3, 2023
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD



What is Motion Sickness?

If you’ve ever felt dizzy or nauseous during a car ride or while riding at sea, you’ll know that this phenomenon can vary from mild to an “over-the-railing-green-in-the-face” episode. Motion sickness is a common condition characterized by a range of symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and vomiting, triggered by motion or movement. 

The conflict between the vestibular (inner ear) and ocular sensory signals connected to motion causes this condition. These two sources provide contradicting messages to the brain, which causes a sensory mismatch and the symptoms of motion sickness.

The brain perceives signals from the inner ear that conflict with visual information as possibly being a toxin or poison ingestion because the inner ear plays a critical function in maintaining balance and spatial orientation. This misunderstanding sets off the body’s defensive mechanisms, resulting in symptoms such as vertigo and nausea.

While motion sickness can affect anyone, certain individuals are more predisposed due to genetic factors. Genetic variations may influence the functioning of neurotransmitters and receptors involved in motion perception and balance. Factors such as age, gender, and prior experiences with motion can also contribute to susceptibility.

Comprehending the genetic foundations of motion sickness illuminates its genesis and creates opportunities for customized approaches to avoidance and management. To create tailored interventions for people who are susceptible to motion sickness, researchers are still delving into the complex interactions between heredity and environmental factors.

Motion Sickness

Why Do People Develop Motion Sickness?

The brain interprets the ear-eye incongruence as a potential toxin ingestion, triggering nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. Genetic factors contribute to an individual’s susceptibility, as variations in genes related to neurotransmitters and sensory processing can influence motion sickness.

Evolutionarily, motion sickness might have served as a protective mechanism, prompting individuals to avoid potentially harmful substances. Despite its evolutionary roots, understanding the genetic and environmental factors behind motion sickness aids in developing targeted interventions for prevention and relief.

How Common is Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is a common ailment that impacts a considerable segment of the population. According to studies, about one-third of people are prone to motion sickness, and another third might get symptoms under specific circumstances. The frequency varies depending on the mode of transportation; activities such as sea travel have been found to have a higher incidence than travel by air or car.

Age and gender are two factors that impact susceptibility: motion sickness is more common in women than in men, and it tends to affect youngsters and elderly individuals. Individual variations in susceptibility are also influenced by genetic predispositions.

Comprehending the frequency and causative elements of motion sickness is crucial for formulating efficacious prophylactics and remediations, in addition to catering to individuals who might be more vulnerable in diverse transportation and virtual reality environments.

What Affects Motion Sickness?

Sensory conflicts—a condition in which the brain interprets contradicting signals from the eyes and inner ear—have an impact on motion sickness by impairing balance perception. Susceptibility is influenced by elements like age, gender (more prevalent in females), genetic predispositions, and past motion experiences. Developing effective treatments and preventive measures benefits from an understanding of these factors.

Genetic Factors

There have been several studies into the genetic basis of motion sickness susceptibility, shedding light on potential genetic factors that may contribute to an individual’s propensity for motion-induced nausea and discomfort.

HTR2A Gene (Serotonin Receptor 2A)

Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that affects mood and nausea. The HTR2A gene, coding for the serotonin receptor 2A, has been investigated for motion sickness. Variations in this gene may impact serotonin signaling, potentially influencing susceptibility to motion-induced nausea.

LifeDNA’s Motion Sickness Report Genetic Markers

One study, a GWAS with over 80,000 participants, uncovered 35 significant genetic associations with motion sickness, shedding light on the complex interplay of genes involved. Notable associations include rs66800491 near PVRL3, linked to eye development, and rs2153535 near MUTED, implicated in balance. Several of the SNPs are near genes related to neurological processes, such as those in NLGN1 and CBLN4

Surprisingly, some of the SNPs are also linked to glucose and insulin homeostasis, like rs56051278 in GPD2. Moreover, certain SNPs are in hypoxia-related regions, suggesting a potential link between hypoxia and motion sickness. Shared genetics were found between motion sickness and migraines (e.g., rs61759167 in PRDM16) and postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) (e.g., rs6833641 near ARAP2). 

Other genetic markers included in the report include  ACO1 (rs10970305), AUTS2 (rs1195218), GPR26 (rs705145), UBE2E2 (rs11129078), LINGO2 (rs2150864), and CPNE4 (rs9834560).

The field of genetics and motion sickness is complex, and research findings may not always be consistent across studies. Moreover, multiple genes and their interactions, rather than a single gene, likely contribute to an individual’s susceptibility. Further research, including more large-scale genome-wide association studies (GWAS), is needed to identify more precise genetic markers associated with motion sickness.

Environmental Factors

Motion sickness is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While genetic predispositions play a role, various environmental factors contribute significantly to the onset and severity of motion sickness. Understanding these factors is crucial for developing effective prevention and mitigation strategies.

Visual Stimuli

Conflicting Visual Information: A primary cause of motion sickness is a conflict between visual input and signals from the inner ear’s vestibular system. For instance, reading while in a moving vehicle or experiencing virtual reality that does not correspond to physical motion can induce nausea.

Vestibular Stimuli

Unpredictable Motion: Sudden or unpredictable movements, such as turbulence during air travel or irregularities in sea conditions, can amplify the sensory conflict and contribute to motion sickness. 

Individual Differences

Age: Children between 2 and 12 years old and older adults are more susceptible to motion sickness than other age groups. This susceptibility tends to decrease during adolescence and adulthood. 

Gender: Women, especially during menstruation and pregnancy, are generally more prone to motion sickness than men. Hormonal fluctuations are believed to influence susceptibility.

Prior Experience and Adaptation

Acquired Tolerance: Individuals who frequently engage in activities that can induce motion sickness may develop a degree of tolerance or adaptation over time. For example, sailors or frequent flyers may experience reduced symptoms with continued exposure.

Body Position and Posture

Lack of Control: Being in a situation where an individual has little control over the motion, such as being a passenger rather than a driver, can increase susceptibility to motion sickness. Lack of control disrupts the integration of sensory information. 

Environmental Conditions

Closed Spaces: Poor ventilation in enclosed spaces, such as the cabin of a car or an airplane, can exacerbate motion sickness symptoms. Adequate ventilation helps mitigate sensory conflict by providing the brain with additional sensory input.

Mental State and Stress

Anxiety and Stress: Emotional factors, including anxiety and stress, can influence the onset and severity of motion sickness. Stress may exacerbate symptoms through its effects on the autonomic nervous system. 

Medication and Substances

Certain Medications: Some medications, such as those for pain, hypertension, and psychiatric conditions, may increase susceptibility to motion sickness as a side effect. Additionally, alcohol and certain substances can exacerbate symptoms.

A thorough understanding of motion sickness is possible through an understanding of the interaction between genetic predispositions and various environmental influences. Reducing sensory conflicts, keeping eyes fixed on a fixed spot, and progressively acclimating people to motion stimuli are common techniques used to treat or prevent motion sickness. Effective motion sickness management can also be aided by environmental changes like better ventilation and stress reduction.

What are the Symptoms of Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness manifests with a range of symptoms resulting from a sensory conflict between visual input and signals from the inner ear’s vestibular system, responsible for balance and spatial orientation. The most common symptoms include:

  1. Nausea: A feeling of queasiness and an urge to vomit are hallmark symptoms of motion sickness. Nausea may be accompanied by salivation and increased swallowing.
  2. Vomiting:  In more severe cases, motion sickness can lead to vomiting. This is the body’s response to what the brain perceives as potentially ingesting a harmful substance.
  3. Dizziness: Individuals experiencing motion sickness often report feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness. This results from the sensory conflict disrupting the brain’s interpretation of motion.
  4. Sweating: Motion sickness can induce sweating, leading to increased perspiration, particularly on the forehead.
  5. Pallor: Paleness of the skin, or pallor, is a common symptom. It is associated with the activation of the autonomic nervous system in response to the perceived threat of poisoning.
  6. Fatigue: Motion sickness can be mentally and physically exhausting, contributing to feelings of fatigue and lethargy.
  7. Headache: Some individuals may experience headaches as a secondary symptom of motion sickness, likely due to the overall stress on the nervous system.

Each person will experience symptoms differently, and that susceptibility can be influenced by several variables, including age, gender, and past motion experiences.

Furthermore, while travel is frequently linked to motion sickness, other activities that involve perceived motion, such as simulator rides or virtual reality experiences, can also cause it. For motion sickness to be effectively managed and prevented, it is essential to comprehend these symptoms and the factors that can cause them.

Can Motion Sickness Go Away on Its Own?

With time, motion sickness can become better and can even go away on its own. We refer to this process of natural desensitization as habituation. People’s bodies and brains may adjust to the opposing sensory signals that initially caused motion sickness as they are frequently exposed to motion stimuli. Habituation is especially prevalent in circumstances when people participate in motion-sickness-causing activities regularly, like traveling.

However, each person experiences motion sickness differently in terms of how quickly it goes away on its own. This process is influenced by various factors, including age, genetics, and the frequency of exposure. Some may see a noticeable improvement in their symptoms, but others might still be vulnerable. Interventions like behavioral strategies, medicine, or other preventive measures may be taken into consideration for people who suffer from severe or chronic motion sickness.

Is Motion Sickness the Same as Vertigo?

Vertigo and motion sickness are two different but related conditions. Motion sickness is the term used to describe the pain, nausea, and vertigo that arise from a sensory conflict between signals from the vestibular system of the inner ear and visual information, usually brought on by motion or movement.

On the other hand, nausea and unsteadiness are frequently present along with vertigo, which is defined by a delusional feeling of spinning or movement. While vertigo can be brought on by several conditions, such as infections, inner ear illnesses (such as vestibular migraines or Meniere’s disease), or neurological problems that impair balance, motion sickness is typically associated with particular activities like traveling.

Both conditions involve disturbances in the vestibular system, which contributes to our sense of spatial orientation and balance. However, the key difference lies in the sensations experienced.

Motion sickness is typically triggered by external motion, whereas vertigo involves a perception of motion that may occur even when the individual is stationary. Understanding these distinctions is essential for accurate diagnosis and appropriate management of these conditions.

How to Manage Motion Sickness

Managing motion sickness involves a combination of preventive measures, behavioral strategies, and, in some cases, medications. 

Choose the Right Seat

Front and Center: When traveling, opt for a seat at the front and center of the vehicle or vessel. This position minimizes the visual and physical sensations associated with motion.

Visual Fixation

Stare at the Horizon: Maintaining a steady gaze at the horizon helps stabilize visual input and reduce sensory conflict. This is particularly effective during sea travel or car rides.

Fresh Air and Ventilation

Open Windows: Adequate ventilation and fresh air can alleviate symptoms. When possible, open windows or ensure good airflow in enclosed spaces to provide additional sensory input.

Avoid Reading and Screen Use

Limit Close-Up Tasks: Reading, watching videos, or using electronic devices can exacerbate motion sickness. Minimize these activities, especially in vehicles, to prevent conflicting visual signals.

Acclimatization and Gradual Exposure

Frequent Exposure: Gradual exposure to motion can induce habituation and reduce susceptibility. Increasing exposure over time, especially in activities prone to motion sickness, may help the body adapt. 

Hydration and Nutrition

Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can exacerbate motion sickness symptoms. Stay well-hydrated, but avoid heavy meals before travel, as a full stomach can contribute to nausea.


Natural Remedy: Ginger has shown anti-nausea properties and is considered a natural remedy for motion sickness. Consuming ginger in various forms, such as ginger tea or supplements, may help alleviate symptoms. 


Pressure Points: Acupressure wristbands, which apply pressure to specific points on the wrist, have been suggested as a non-pharmacological intervention for motion sickness. While scientific evidence is mixed, some studies support their efficacy. 


Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as dimenhydrinate and meclizine, are commonly used to prevent and treat motion sickness. These medications work by blocking signals in the brain responsible for nausea and vomiting.

Prescription Medications

Scopolamine: This prescription medication, often administered as a patch behind the ear, can be effective in preventing motion sickness by affecting the vestibular system. It should be used under medical supervision due to potential side effects.

Individual responses to these strategies vary, and a combination of approaches may be most effective. Consult with healthcare professionals, especially for individuals with chronic or severe motion sickness. Additionally, as research in this field continues, new interventions may emerge, providing additional options for managing and preventing motion sickness.

About LifeDNA’s Motion Sickness Report

Unlock the secrets of your genetic code with LifeDNA’s Wellness Report, offering a comprehensive exploration of your unique genetic predispositions, including a detailed analysis of potential factors contributing to motion sickness. Our reports delve into genetic markers associated with susceptibility, empowering you with personalized insights for effective prevention and management. 

Explore other insightful reports from LifeDNA, including the Smoking Behavior & Nicotine Dependence Report, Back Pain Report, Longevity Report, and Male Pattern Baldness Report

Each report provides valuable genetic insights, enabling you to make informed decisions for a healthier, happier future. Elevate your understanding of yourself with LifeDNA – where science meets personalized wellness. Order your complete Wellness Report today and embark on a journey to a genetically informed and optimized lifestyle.


  • A frequent disorder called motion sickness is defined by a variety of symptoms that are brought on by movement or motion, including nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. 
  • The symptoms are brought on by a conflict between the vestibular (inner ear) and ocular sensory signals related to motion. The brain receives conflicting signals from these two sources, leading to a sensory mismatch and motion sickness sensations.
  • Because the inner ear is essential for maintaining balance and spatial orientation, the brain interprets signals from the inner ear that contradict visual information as potentially being a poison or toxin ingestion. 
  • Although anybody can experience motion sickness, some people are more susceptible than others owing to genetic factors.
  • Two characteristics that affect susceptibility are age and sex: women are more likely than men to experience motion sickness, and they also tend to afflict children and the elderly more frequently. 
  • Each person will react to motion sickness symptoms differently, and several factors, such as age, gender, and prior motion-related experiences, might affect a person’s susceptibility to the condition. 
  • A combination of behavioral techniques, preventative measures, and, in certain situations, medication is used to manage motion sickness. 


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