What is Pica?
Young children can suffer from an eating disorder known as pica; although Pica in adults can occur as well. This is a condition that causes cravings for unusual non-food items. This is caused by nutritional deficiencies in the body. After the nutrient levels return to normal, the cravings stop. Treatment for Pica is that simple as long as you can determine what the deficiency is. Depending on what item is being craved, you can determine which nutrients the body is lacking. Although it’s often considered normal for young children to put non-food items in their mouths, actually eating them can mean they may have an underlying problem.
An odd craving young children and adults often have is a craving for dirt. When the body receives poor nutrition, it’s common for the body to have inadequate iron levels. Low iron levels (anemia) may cause an unusual craving for dirt. Clay cravings can be a result of anemia as well. Eating dirt is dangerous for children and adults because it can cause serious illness and lead poisoning. Pica treatment for dirt cravings would be to reestablish adequate iron levels.
Children and adults can experience a strong craving to chew on ice. A strong ice craving is often caused by an iron deficiency in the body. After iron levels have returned to normal the cravings usually stop. Ice cravings can cause serious damage to the teeth; therefore, it’s important to seek treatment for ice cravings.
Poor nutrition may cause a craving for wood, like mothballs or matches. This craving is another symptom of an iron deficiency. Charcoal can often be a craving of an iron deficiency as well. Injuries to the intestines, mouth, teeth and esophagus can occur from eating wood and charcoal, making treatment absolutely essential.
Soaps is often an unusual craving for children and adults to have if they suffer from Pica because of the taste. Children and adults may crave soaps because of a zinc deficiency; however, iron deficiencies can also cause a craving for soaps. Soap cravings can lead to sores in the mouth and throat.
Other Cravings Caused by Pica
The most common cause of craving non-food items is an iron deficiency caused by a poor diet. It’s important to discuss with a doctor unusual cravings. Some people are unable to absorb vital nutrients, which can result in the cravings. The list of non-food cravings is endless, but a few of the most common cravings include: paint, metal, chalks, dry rice, gasoline, paint thinner, toilet paper, rocks, laundry detergent, and bleach.
If a person eats a non-food item, they are at risk of multiple health conditions. Their intestines can become blocked or they can become seriously ill. To reduce the risk of developing an iron deficiency, proper nutrition needs to include adequate consumption of red meats. Regular testing for anemia needs to be conducted at least once a year.
“Pregnancy and PICA: Non-Food Cravings” March 2007