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Compulsion to Eat Dirt Can Be Beaten

Compulsion to Eat Dirt Can Be Beaten
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Q. I am writing from Kenya where a lot of women eat clay. It is even packaged and sold at the supermarkets.

Whether they are pregnant or not, many women go through these 200-gram packs of dirt at an alarming pace. I was one of them myself. When I went to the doctor he said I was anemic but iron did not help. The cravings just got more intense during my periods and after.

I went back to the doctor. He put me on a zinc supplement for a while and the cravings for clay disappeared. Women do seem susceptible to cravings when we have mineral deficiencies, and it does not matter which part of the world we come from.

A. You might be surprised how many women in North America also have these cravings to eat dirt or clay. When they can’t get clay (it is not sold in supermarkets here), they often eat cornstarch. But the biological basis is the same: iron or zinc deficiencies are often at the root of this behavior. Correcting the deficiency may help women overcome the craving.

Doctors have a term for this. It is called pica, and may show up as a compulsion to eat ice (sometimes damaging the teeth), laundry starch or other non-food items, including clay. It may also include odd food compulsions, such as carrots, popcorn, iceberg lettuce or the cornstarch we have already mentioned. It is well worth a visit to the doctor to get tested for iron or zinc deficiency. Correcting the deficiency can usually help a person overcome the desire to consume these odd and sometimes dangerous substances.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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