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What is Amylophagia?

written by: Brandy A Burgess • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 8/13/2010

Amylophagia is form of pica that is characterized by eating obsessive amounts of refined starches. Learn the causes, symptoms and treatment of this condition.

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    Amylophagia: A Form of Pica

    Amylophagia is a form of pica which is characterized by the compulsive consumption of purified starch in excessive amounts. UnlikeCornstarch  the traditional starchy staples that are found in a traditional diet, such as potatoes or rice, patients with this condition have a strong craving to eat refined starches including laundry and cornstarch. Eating cornstarch and similar starchy foods in large quantities can be a serious health hazard. This is because cornstarch is produced through chemical processes and has limited nutritional benefits. Amylophagia most commonly occurs in pregnant women, but can occur in other demographics.

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    Amylophagia: The Causes

    The specific causes of amylophagia continue to be pinpointed by professionals, but many factors come into play. This complex behavior comes from a combination of biochemical, psychological, hematological and various cultural factors. In some cases, nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of zinc or a lack of iron can be causative factors.

    Although amylophagia and other forms of pica can develop with an individual of any background, the majority of cases are associated with:

    • Pregnant women
    • Mental retardation
    • Developmental disabilities
    • Children under the age of three
    • Autism or other psychiatric conditions
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Poor nutrition or dieting
    • African American women
    • Certain religious traditions or cultures
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    Amylophagia: The Symptoms

    Patients with amylophagia may go through many boxes of starch a week and may or may not hide their eating habits.

    If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, it’s essential to contact your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Without treatment, the following complications may occur:

    • Iron deficiency anemia
    • Infection
    • Intestinal obstruction
    • Malnutrition
    • Hardened mass in the abdomen
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    Amylophagia: Treatments

    Treatment for amylophagia will begin with controlling the underlying problems, such as linked medical problems or missing nutrients in the diet. Behavioral, environmental and developmental treatment approaches will be assigned, according to your doctors recommendations. Successful treatment methods include associating the pica behavior with a punishment or bad consequence (mild aversion therapy), which is then followed by a positive reinforcement. Patients may receive benefits for eating the right foods. If amylophagia developed from mental retardation, medications can be provided to control the behavior.

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    Amylophagia: Outlook & Prognosis

    With the proper treatment, patients with amylophagia can control their condition or completely treat it. In many cases, the disorder will last a mere two to three months and disappear without treatment. In rare cases, amylophagia will last through childhood and into adulthood. This is more common in those who have developmental disorders. Patients with amylophagia have the opportunity to live relatively normal lives without interference from their condition. Talk to your doctor to learn more about amylophagia and what you can do to treat your condition.

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