Eat Dirt!


| 7 Comments

We all have food cravings. While most of us dream about a favorite meal or snack, some people have less conventional cravings. Some people have come to crave items that are not food at all.  How would you feel about munching on some dirt? Pica is an eating disorder that occurs in young children and adults in which the person involved craves non-food substances including but not limited to dirt, sand, clay, paint, paper, chalk, hairballs, and even animal feces.

dirt eat.jpeg

(Image credit of Discovery.com)

Though no concrete cause has been pinpointed, a variety of causes have been associated with the disorder. According to a Seattle Public Health site, many experts theorize that a mineral or dietary deficiency is the cause. Others believe that it is caused by stress. In first world countries, pica is most commonly seen in pregnant women, toddlers, and mentally disabled children. While it makes sense for it to occur in pregnant women as the American Pregnancy Association notes that on top of already experiencing strange cravings, pregnant women often experience iron deficiency, there is less reasoning behind its occurrence in mentally disabled children. Are these children not being properly nourished or it pica a symptom of a developmental disorder?

While researching further information on pica, I found a National Geographic article that provides a completely different reason for eating inedibles. Some people are convinced that eating substances such as dirt is actually beneficial to your health. In Madagascar, some practice pica because of its alleged healing powers. Pica is commonly used for stomach troubles and for bringing luck to the body. 

Contrasting this belief, experts claim that pica has no nutritional value and can actually be dangerous to the body.  It was claimed that people in Madagascar experienced better health because of pica because they were deficient in minerals such as iron that can be found in the dirt that was being eaten. Practicing pica can result in serious bowel problems, abdominal problems, and parasitic infections. Consuming contaminated soil can result in even more serious problems including lead poisoning and arsenic-related health issues. Its dangers far overshadow any benefits it could have.

When I first began researching this topic, I assumed that I would primarily be reading about third-world countries, though pica does occur in the third-world more often, it is far from being secluded there.  Pica is not uncommon in the first-world. Does anyone have any other reasons why? Have we become so bad at planning our diets that the body has become desperate to replace crucial nutrients? Is pica a symptom of some other disorder?

 Sources: 

http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/pica.html

http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/unusualcravingspica.html

http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ehs/toxic/pica.aspx

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121019-pica-food-health-science-madagascar-men-women-pregnant-eat-dirt 

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001538.htm

7 Comments

Interesting article. I was actually going to write something similar. You talk about how doctors have said that in cases, pica results in not only no nutritional gain, but dangers to the body. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the Spike tv show 1000 Ways To Die, but there was a case in which a man who was sick with this eating disorder had an intolerable craving to consume non traditional foods. One night, he found it reasonable to eat coins. He ate a large amount of nickels, and went to the hospital where doctors surgically removed some of the coins, but the man passed away before doctors could successfully complete the surgery. What troubles me is while I was looking for that specific example, i found others such as this one (http://www.shockingtimes.co.uk/man-dies-after-eating-431-coins-196-pellets-and-17-small-bolts/) in which people ate metal and other inedibles, yet they did not possess any diseases or even eating disorders. In these, cases, something is clearly seriously wrong with the victims, yet I wonder, what would create the impulse to eat these types of things if that person is not suffering from any disorders?

i found this article very interesting. I have actually heard of television shows and articles that talk about people eating things that are not food and considered very weird such as tissues, cotton balls, etc. I found an article about children, and how they eat things that are not edible to experience the world. However, is this considered pica? Maybe the people that eat things that aren't edible are just in the mindset of a baby, and are still eating things in order to experience what they are. It would be very interesting to examine the brains of these people that eat things that aren't food and see why they do it and if they still have an underdeveloped brain.

I've never heard of pica until now but it seems pretty crazy! I can't imagine why eating things like dirt and clay wouldn't upset your stomach. They are all foreign to your body so it would be hard for your intestines to digest properly. In terms of third world countries, perhaps the people with pica are only eating these substances because their body is so starved. In an attempt to stay alive, they will quite literally, eat anything. As for pica's prevalence in first world countries, I may account these strange cravings to weird personal preferences in taste. I doubt that a mental disorder is to blame. This article, from TLC, claims that one reason pregnant women may be attracted to eating things like clay and dirt is because of a craving for the texture- not the taste. To me, this is a better explanation. Have you ever had a crazy craving for something and not been able to explain why?

As soon as I started to think people were normal...

If you plan on eating dirt at least make sure it is clean.. In another 1000 ways to die a girl suffering from pica came across her neighbors organic garden for a midnight snack. Little did the woman know that the garden was fertilized with human feces. Feces being a byproduct of the human body and a bacteria magnet IS harmful and potentially lethal if consumed.. in case anyone was wondering or thinking about trying it... Is there any animal feces that is edible? For some reason I feel like Bear Grills has probably eaten poop before...

Food may be a universal trait; however the types of food eaten around the world and what is considered “normal” vary. Chinese people eat dogs. Peruvians eat guinea pigs. They consider this “normal”, while some Americans may not necessarily. Your blog reminds me of a show I occasionally watched on TLC called “My Strange Addiction.” People on the show are addicted to the strangest things due to unusual compulsive behaviors such as eating toilet paper, cleaners, couch cushions, glass, etc. It is quite an interesting show if you ever get a chance to watch it!
Science Daily thinks the most probable explanation of eating dirt is that “it protects the stomach against toxins, parasites, and pathogens.” However, researchers decided to explore further by gathering over 480 accounts of field work to try to find out why people might eat dirt. They concluded that the explanation of hunger is not probably because those who did eat dirt ate it in small quantities, not enough to fill someone up. They also found that dirt does not have nutritional value.

Even if dirt does not have any nutritional value for humans, it does have value in being able to nurture plants and crops to grow. But did you ever think that the nutrition of a vegetable grown in the ground could vary due to the soil it was grown in?
Scientific American argues that food grown in the ground has lost much of the nutritional value it had in prior years due to the depletion of soil. This is due to the fact that newer agricultural methods have overtaken good old fashioned farming. Researchers from The University of Texas did studies on the nutritional value of 43 vegetables dating back as early as 1950. They found that the nutritional value in most of these vegetables had decreased.

Whether soil does or does not have nutrition is still a debated topic. As odd as it may be, people may like eating dirt because they just love the taste, more than other foods that grow in dirt. There are some weird people out there! Have you ever tried it? How would you describe the taste?

Food may be a universal trait; however the types of food eaten around the world and what is considered “normal” vary. Chinese people eat dogs. Peruvians eat guinea pigs. They consider this “normal”, while some Americans may not necessarily. Your blog reminds me of a show I occasionally watched on TLC called “My Strange Addiction.” People on the show are addicted to the strangest things due to unusual compulsive behaviors such as eating toilet paper, cleaners, couch cushions, glass, etc. It is quite an interesting show if you ever get a chance to watch it!
Science Daily thinks the most probable explanation of eating dirt is that “it protects the stomach against toxins, parasites, and pathogens.” However, researchers decided to explore further by gathering over 480 accounts of field work to try to find out why people might eat dirt. They concluded that the explanation of hunger is not probably because those who did eat dirt ate it in small quantities, not enough to fill someone up. They also found that dirt does not have nutritional value.

Even if dirt does not have any nutritional value for humans, it does have value in being able to nurture plants and crops to grow. But did you ever think that the nutrition of a vegetable grown in the ground could vary due to the soil it was grown in?
Scientific American argues that food grown in the ground has lost much of the nutritional value it had in prior years due to the depletion of soil. This is due to the fact that newer agricultural methods have overtaken good old fashioned farming. Researchers from The University of Texas did studies on the nutritional value of 43 vegetables dating back as early as 1950. They found that the nutritional value in most of these vegetables had decreased.

Whether soil does or does not have nutrition is still a debated topic. As odd as it may be, people may like eating dirt because they just love the taste, more than other foods that grow in dirt. There are some weird people out there! Have you ever tried it? How would you describe the taste?

I think it's kind of weird how we have cravings for non-food related items. Maybe it has to relate to when we were babies, all our senses were in our mouth, so whenever we reached for an item, no matter how dirty it was, we'd aim it in our mouths to taste what the item is. Maybe people just enjoy the taste of soil. I enjoy biting straws, would that be considered a pica as well? I don't think pica is a symptom or disorder because there hasn't been any proof that these "cravings" are destroying are bodies. When I chew straws, it helps me think, so wouldn't it be beneficial? Maybe dirt can be food, we're just not used to it because we don't label it as food.

On a side note, I have an Asian background and we have Chinese medicines that are basically herbs and "pica"s. It's all of these crushed into bits like sand so you can't tell what you are eating. And they are known to cure! Rabbit ear is known to cure anxiety.
Very interesting article!

Leave a comment

Subscribe to receive notifications of follow up comments via email.
We are processing your request. If you don't see any confirmation within 30 seconds, please reload your page.

Search This Blog

Full Text  Tag

Recent Entries

Hybrids
Everyone has heard of them as being the best car out there, mainly cause of gas prices. Hybrids are sweeping…
Break-Ups
People everywhere are breaking up, just in time for the holidays. And the more couples I see parting ways, the…
Pregnancy Tests
While browsing Andrew's blog and looking to see all of the posts that I missed (I'm pretty sure I haven't…

Old Contributions