Vail Daily column: The evolutionary roots of morning sickness |

Vail Daily column: The evolutionary roots of morning sickness

Robert Valko
Dear Darwin
Vail, CO Colorado

Snails are very confused about their sexual identities; they come with both sets of reproductive parts. It’s a great time-saver and really cuts down on heartbreak.

We learned in the last Dear Darwin column that snails waggle their tentacles and circle each other for six hours before mating – a trend that’s also very hot in L.A. right now. Then, without warning, one of them mans up and shoots a “love dart” at the other.

In attempt to reduce circling-time and improve the chances of hitting their targets with their love-darts, snail groupies around the world have recruited a sex therapist to monitor the affairs. Dr. Ruth will now be present to help clear up any confusion over who’s who and will offer support for any snails seeking sexual reassignment surgery.

We also learned that Emperor penguins “sing” to each other before they mate. We’ve since found their songs are far more complex than ever imagined. Not only do they sing “You’re the Wind Beneath my Flippers” and “On the Wings of Love,” they’ve also been known to engage in complex performance rituals such as the Chicken Dance and the Age of Aquarius.

Indeed, creatures go to extraordinary measures to propagate their genes. What’s even more bizarre is what happens to human females while pregnant.

Only a pregnant woman has the power to push her husband out of bed at 2 a.m. and send him out for ice cream, spaghetti, and sauerkraut – just one of the many culinary expeditions one husband went on. Apparently, the mini Italian-German football player growing inside her was sending up signals for a midnight snack. I’m no food-healer, but it seems there might be a link between that kind of eating and morning sickness.

Speaking of cravings and morning sickness, what’s evolution up to? What’s it trying to tell mothers with those conditions? Some people in the medical profession suggest its the result of hormonal changes, but that’s like saying Jessie opened the door because there was a handle on it.

It turns out that morning sickness occurs when the embryos organ systems and limbs are being developed and it’s vulnerable to toxins in foods. These toxins, which can normally be safely eaten by the mother, can lead to birth defects or miscarriage. The puking ends when the caloric needs of the embryo become greater than its vulnerability to these toxins. Women who have more severe morning sickness are less likely to miscarry and less likely to have children with birth defects.

As far as the cravings go, they are related to the huge amounts of calories that fetuses absorb. Because mom’s appetite might be suppressed due to fatigue, heartburn and indigestion, evolution cranks up her cravings so she doesn’t miss out on precious calories. Women also have a strong aversion to bitter foods during the first trimester. This is likely due to the fact that bitter food may contain agents what will harm the developing fetus. Salt, sweet and sour cravings come later on; they likely exist to vary incoming nutrients and satisfy the need for sodium, which may be brought on as body mass increases and more blood is required.

Because they can handle all this drama, females are truly the stronger sex.

Robert Valko is a graduate of Northwestern University. E-mail him with topic ideas at

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