New Cure for Seasickness?

This small, simple device may allow thousands of people to get out on the water.

September 21, 2007
The ReliefBand’s five power levels can be set with the simple controls, and are transmitted to the wrist by two electrodes on the back.

The angler did not look good. His eyes were bloodshot, his face a pallid gray. He staggered up to the captain of the charter boat and groaned.”How much does this boat cost?”

“Uh, $35,000,” the startled skipper replied. “Why?”

“Because I’ll buy it right this minute for $400,000 cash if you’ll take me back to the dock. Otherwise I may have to die to get better!”


I witnessed the above exchange on an offshore trip out of Alabama, and if you’ve ever suffered a bad case of mal du mer you can no doubt sympathize with the desperate angler. Seasickness may provide ample fodder for ribbing among fishing buddies, but it’s no joke to the afflicted. The prolonged nausea and dizziness associated with this age-old nautical malady has made more than one mariner wish for a quick and merciful end.

Until recently, boaters and fishermen have had to rely on over-the-counter drugs such as Dramamine and Bonine, along with prescription remedies like Scopalomine (the famous patch), to cure seasickness. While these drugs do provide relief for some people, they often have unpleasant side effects, such as drowsiness, headaches, dry mouth and even short-term memory loss. Some of these drugs can also be dangerous when taken in combination with other prescription medication.

But now there’s a new alternative, and it could just prove to be a panacea for the unpleasant and sometimes debilitating effects of seasickness. It’s called the ReliefBand, and it works under the premise that mild electrical pulses applied to nerves in the wrist area can stimulate a response in the brain that prevents the onslaught of nausea. The battery-operated ReliefBand is worn on the wrist, where it administers periodic, mild electrical shocks to the wearer. Because some people respond better to different levels of electrical stimuli, the strength of the shock can be controlled through a dial on the outside of the band.



I’ll admit to being skeptical when I first heard about the ReliefBand. After all, I have seen other “anti-seasickness” wristband gizmos come down the pike touting miracle-like cures, and none of them seemed to work very well. Granted, these earlier bands relied on pressure applied to the wrist nerves, not electrical pulses, but they had nonetheless soured me on the idea that anything other than a pill or patch could cure seasickness.

But being the intrepid outdoor reporter that I am, I thought it my duty to investigate. So I contacted the maker of the ReliefBand, Woodside Biomedical, who sent me several of the devices to test “in the field.” With a series of offshore party boat trips on my docket, I was sure to find plenty of subjects for my unofficial tests.

The first outing turned out to be a real belly-churner. After running some 60 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, we found ourselves in ten- to 12-foot seas. I looked around for some volunteers, and soon came up with Cricket Brown of Greenwood, Mississippi. My first guinea pig!


After trying the ReliefBand on its lowest power setting, Brown said she felt somewhat better in less than ten minutes. “By the middle of the day I was almost completely over my seasickness,” she recalls. “I was able to fish and have a good time with the rest of the party.

“The band’s initial shock surprised me. It was like touching a low-voltage electric fence. Each time the band pulsed, my hand and wrist would tingle, but the feeling wasn’t unpleasant.”

George Milam of Jackson, Mississippi, also tried the ReliefBand on the same trip. “After I put it on, I felt much calmer, and the nausea went away. I wore it for about 20 or 30 minutes before giving it to someone else who needed it.”


Two days later, a third test subject presented itself in the form of Denise Smith of Pascagoula, Mississippi, who had never fished offshore before. “It was the first time I’d had a problem with seasickness,” she said. “We’d been out for a little while and the water was fairly calm, but when I stood up, I suddenly felt very nauseous and dizzy. However, within 15 minutes of putting on the ReliefBand, I felt fine.”

I had never seen anyone recover from seasickness while still at sea, so the results of my informal tests were surprising, to say the least. Maybe there was something to this electric-shock thing after all.

How it Works

Motion sickness affects ten to 20 percent of the U.S. population, almost 50 million people. It occurs when an individual’s sense of equilibrium becomes out of balance with the visual sense. Dizziness and nausea usually follow.

Neutralizing Nausea: * Worn like a watch * Uses electro-acustimulation * Five power settings * No side effects

According to Woodside Biomedical, the ReliefBand works by applying electrical pulses to nerves in the wrist that travel to the brain and trigger the production of specific neurotransmitters that block the effects of motion-induced nausea and dizziness. Researchers have conducted several studies about how the ReliefBand affects motion sickness, including one by Dr. Ken Koch at Pennsylvania State University’s Hershey Medical Center. Koch wanted to determine how the ReliefBand’s electrical stimulation at the P6 acupuncture point, located on the underside of the wrist along the median nerve, affected nausea and gastric myoelectrical activity induced while viewing a rotating optokinetic drum, which would give the illusion of random, disorienting motion. Using electrodes to record myoelectrical activity, Dr. Koch concluded that “electrical stimulation of P6 using the ReliefBand resulted in less nausea … increased normal myoelectrical activity and decreased combined tachygastria-duodenal activity.”

Another study, also conducted by Dr. Koch, along with Senqi Hu and Robert M. Stern, also used an optokinetic drum to induce the effects of motion sickness in test subjects, in this case graduate students. When they began to feel queasy, the students stimulated themselves via electro-acupuncture (the premise behind the ReliefBand). The study revealed that “electrical acustimulation by the students reduced the symptoms of motion sickness and also reduced gastric tachyarrthymia (higher than normal gastric activity), which other research had shown to be associated with nausea and other symptoms of motion sickness.”

Woodside Biomedical conducts ongoing research to investigate additional applications of the ReliefBand as a therapeutic tool. As a result, a prescription version has been cleared by the FDA for treatment of the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and pregnancy.

Fishy Beginnings

Even though the ReliefBand has only recently hit the marketplace, research began in the early ’80s. The device was invented in the late ’80s by Larry Bertolucci, an avid deep-sea fisherman and Stanford-trained physical therapist. Aware that stimulation of nerves on the underside of the wrist had been shown to reduce or eliminate nausea and vomiting, Bertolucci invented a watch-like device that would electrically stimulate those nerves. He first tested the prototypes on himself and then on other fishermen, all with great success.

In 1997, interested parties established Woodside Biomedical, Inc. to make the ReliefBand available to consumers. ReliefBand devices are available in prescripton and non-prescription versions. The company recommends the non-prescription variety for motion sickness and it is available in two models: the RB-DL, known as the Discoverer, lasts for 150 hours and costs about $50; and the RB-RL, known as the Adventurer, has a replaceable battery and costs between $140 and $160.

Through my crude field tests, I’ve learned that the ReliefBand affects different people in different ways. When set at full power, some people barely felt the sensation while others found the shocks extremely unpleasant.

I’m highly skeptical of any products that tout seasickness cures. I don’t believe in secret elixirs, whether they’re meant to catch more fish or solve a medical ailment. However, after seeing the ReliefBand work on every person I have tried it on—not only for seasickness, but nausea in general—I have to say that I’m a believer. In fact, I now take one with me on every fishing trip. This small, simple device may allow thousands of people who once lived in fear of boating and fishing to get out on the water.

To learn more about the ReliefBand, contact Woodside Biomedical at (888) 718-6900, or visit the company’s web site at


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