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Geophagy And Pica

Q: I love the smell of dirt, and sometimes I even want to eat it. Is my body lacking minerals or something?

Dr. Donnica: You may be surprised to hear that this condition is common enough to have a specific name: geophagy.  It has a strong cultural precedent in various African societies and was carried over to some parts of the Southeastern United States.  The cravings are most prevalent in pregnant and nursing women, but it also affects those who have vitamin or other nutritional deficiencies.  While it is generally believed to be a cultural practice, it also may fill a physiological need for the nutrients contained in rich soil such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, and iron. 

This condition is a subset of the condition generally known as "pica," the craving or eating of items that are not food.  To be diagnosed with pica, a person must show signs of it for at least one month. There is no specific medical test for pica nor is there any specific prevention or treatment for it.   If you think you have pica, it is important that you seek out medical and nutritional advice.  In the meantime, it may also help to take a home pregnancy test and a general daily multivitamin with iron.

Created: 4/5/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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