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Essential Facts about Geophagia

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 10/27/2010

A person who consumes earth, whether it is caused by a mental disorder, a cultural belief or iron deficiency, is suffering from geophagia. This condition is usually not lethal, but it can be if there is too much earth ingested by the patient.

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    Introduction

    soil Pica, an eating disorder where one consumes non-food items, comes in different more specific forms. One form of Pica is the inappropriate consumption of dirt or clay, and this condition is called Geophagia. It may seem ridiculous and weird for most people, but is actually an accepted practice in some parts of the world. There are other causes for this strange behavior, and we will discuss them and other relevant information about Geophagia in this article.

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    Causes of Geophagia

    As previously stated, Geophagia or the consumption of earth, soil and dirt is an accepted practice in some cultures. For some of them, like the people in South Africa, it is believed that consuming earth can make them look more attractive by improving the color of their skin and even softening it. There is no scientific proof that this is indeed true, but these culture believe that it is very much a fact.

    For people who do not perform Geophagia as a cultural practice, it is caused by a psychiatric problem where one feels the need to consume earth for no particular reason other than an unstoppable craving for it. In some cases, famine and poverty play a role in the consumption of earth. Some people who have nothing to eat because of poverty consume earth to suppress their hunger. This, however, is not very common. Consuming earth because of cultural practices is more common, surprisingly. Finally, in some cases, the condition is brought upon by iron deficiency.

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    Symptoms of Geophagia

    Geophagia can be accompanied by weakness and fatigue if it is caused by iron deficiency. Pregnant women have been found to perform this type of consumption and that is because of their loss of iron that can be considered normal for pregnant women. If it is caused by other factors like cultural practices or mental disorders, there are usually no other symptoms to be found in a person performing Geophagia. It is actually hard to determine from a doctor's perspective if a person is suffering from Geophagia if it is not caused by iron deficiency unless they check the contents of the patient's digestive system which can contain traces of dirt, soil or earth.

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    Treatment of Geogphagia

    For Geophagia caused by iron deficiency, treatment involves iron supplements and even Vitamin C supplements for greater iron absorption. For other cases of Geophagia, though, since there are no common side effects and symptoms of the behavior, nothing much can be done in a medical perspective. Psychiatric help can be administered for people with mental disorders. Counseling from friends or professionals can be given to people who are consuming earth as a cultural practice.

    There can be complications that can come with too much consumption of earth and soil which include intestinal obstruction and parasitic infestation. In these rare cases, death is very much likely to occur. Geophagia may not be dangerous for most people who practice it, but for those who consume too much earth, it is almost certain to be fatal.

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    References

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279487/

    http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/citation/1967/04000/geophagia_during_pregnancy.19.aspx

    http://www.4therapy.com/consumer/conditions/article/7588/75/Geophagia,+More+Commonly+Called+Pica

    Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Supplied by Mesaytsegaye