Don’t eat that!

In Health & Lifestyles on October 22, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Pica is a disease in which people eat and have cravings for things that are not considered food, like clay. Photo courtesy of Google images

By: Lauren Harper

            Everyone had that one kid in their kindergarten class that would always eat the glue when it came to arts and crafts time, and that kid may have even been you at times. Thankfully, glue has been non-toxic for a while to avoid any serious damage to those who consume it, but there are some children and people that take the act of eating non-food items much farther.

            Pica is a disease in which people eat and have cravings for things that are not considered food. Those suffering from pica will consume items like sand, clay, gravel, laundry starch, plastic, fingernails, burnt matches, hair, feces and wood. This disorder is most commonly found in young children over the age of two and pregnant women, but can continue into adulthood with those that have mental disabilities. Although it is not common for people in most countries, in some areas and in different cultures, it is not unusual for people to eat clay and dirt and the substance is even sold to be consumed in these places. Nutritional deficiencies have been associated with pica and those who do not receive the proper amount of calcium, iron and vitamins in their diet will look elsewhere to get them. For some people suffering from pica, the clay they eat provides them with the iron their bodies need. Cultural, socioeconomic, organic and psychodynamic factors have all contributed to why pica sufferers consume the things they do.

            As many know, it is not healthy to eat things like gravel and sand, but what problems does consuming these items cause? Those who have pica can face many issues by eating the things that they do. Lead poisoning, the most common result of pica, can occur in those who eat things like paint and dirt. This lethal element can cause not only death, but also neurological damage and affect the digestive system. Along with lead poisoning, pica can also cause serious GI tract problems, create dental abnormalities and they can suffer from parasites. Treatment for pica is mostly psychological to treat the mental causes for why they are eating what they are. This disorder is not as common in the United States due to different socioeconomic status and it being underreported, but countries in South America and Africa and Australia all have a lot of cases of pica.

            There are a number of causes of pica, including cultural and familial factors, low socioeconomic status, mental disorders and stress, and all of these contribute to what kinds of things pica sufferers consume as well. The health consequences of pica can be fatal, but depending on where the person or child is from will also have a part in their overall health. Next time you see that your little sibling or cousin is eating glue or sneaking bites of the dirt outside, make sure they are not eating other odd things as well and put an end to their new habit.


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