The People's Perspective on Medicine

What Can You Do About Cornstarch Addiction?

To overcome a cornstarch addiction, get tested for iron deficiency. Correcting the anemia often eliminates the unwelcome craving.

Do you know someone with odd eating habits? Or possibly you yourself like to munch on something that isn’t exactly food-something like ice, clay or cornstarch. We heard from a reader who would like to overcome her cornstarch addiction.

How Can You Deal with a Cornstarch Addiction?

Q. I crave cornstarch every day. I’ve been consuming a box of Argo starch for the last three days.

I have had this problem for more than a year, but lately it is out of control. I know one side effect is weight gain. Can you help me with this addiction, for a lack of a better word?

Cornstarch Addiction Is a Form of Pica:

A. Cravings for plain cornstarch or other “non-nutritive substances” such as uncooked rice or even soap are termed “pica” (Moore, Journal of Emergency Nursing, May 2017). Such behavior is fairly common among pregnant women, reaching more than 5% among a large group of expectant Brazilians (Santos et al, Midwifery, Aug. 2017).

Pica is often a consequence of iron deficiency (Borgna-Pignatti & Zanella, Expert Review of Hematology, Nov. 2016).  As a result, you should ask your doctor to test you for anemia. Taking an iron supplement to reverse the deficiency often eliminates the craving, although you may need to be patient. Taking an iron supplement does not reverse anemia instantly in most cases.

Other Problems Associated with Pica:

One cause of anemia, celiac disease, was found to underly the behavior of a young child who ate stones (Shahryar et al, Gastroenterology and Hepatology from Bed to Bench, Winter 2017). This case is probably quite unusual.

A study of frequent blood donors found that a number of them had become anemic and several reported craving and eating nonfood substances (Chansky et al, Transfusion, April 2017). Pica symptoms went away when people were able to reverse their iron deficiency anemia.

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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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I have been eating Argo cornstarch since I was 6 years old. I’m 36 years old now. I eat about 3 boxes a day. I need help. It’s getting hard for me to breathe. I’ve been having real bad cramps in my stomach. I don’t know to do. Please help me.

My heart bleeds for anyone with a cornstarch addiction. I suffer from this form of Pica. I began eating cornstarch during my first pregnancy at age 20. As the years went by, I began eating it more frequently, but slowly at first. One lb. container of Argo Cornstarch would last me a couple of weeks, then I began eating a pound a week. From there, my consumption has only grown, one pound every couple of days until my current situation. I am now 63 years old and have been eating cornstarch for over 40 years. I was like an alcoholic, I would hide cornstarch all over the house to eat when I wouldn’t get caught. I was embarrassed of my addiction.

Fast forward to today, I don’t give a rat’s ass who knows or who sees me eating my cornstarch. I buy it in bulk and it all day EVERY day. I am easily consuming a pound or more per day . . . or 30 plus pounds of pure starch a month. I need serious help. My addiction is totally out of control and I can’t stop. I love cornstarch, I have to have it. I talked to my primary doctor, but he didn’t seem to care, all he said is that it is a condition known as pica and that there is no magic pill to help me stop. He told me I have to find something on my own to replace my Argo addiction. That wasn’t any help . . . I eat it while driving, while on my laptop, in bed at night, watching tv . . . I just don’t care anymore who knows and who sees me. Just let me have my Argo and I am calm and happy.

Where do I begin? Counseling? Psychiatrist? Addiction Counseling? Can I go to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and begin a 12-step program? Will they laugh and humiliate me out the door? My drug of choice is ARGO CORNSTARCH. I need help and support.

Because it is ground to such a fine powder, I assume that cornstarch is very rapidly absorbed in the gut. Cornstarch craving is most often reported in poor disadvantaged women (previous reading but I can’t come up with the referene right now) – who we might guess are feeling pretty depressed.

A surge in blood sugar can make you feel better for a few moments. Corn Starch is a very inexpensive and legal source for that short-lived surge of positive feelings.

Can we ask the writer to think about a depression evaluation as well as an anemia assessment as a way to get to the source of this sense of craving.

Thank you for mentioning celiac disease in conjunction with anemia and odd eating habits. For decades I was turned down as a blood donor because of low hemoglobin. All that time I was addicted to ice. I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia in my thirties, but not diagnosed with my celiac disease until my mid forties. Hopefully, now patients will ask for celiac related antibody blood tests.

I have been taking my iron pills regularly because I need my hemoglobin to go up for surgery, and I still crave corn starch. I don’t swallow it but I like to swish in my mouth I like the feeling. When I am depressed I use it.

THE ADVERTISING OF PHARMACEUTICAL DRUGS ON TV is the main factor in the high cost of prescriptions. It should be illegal as it once was. The patient should not be the one to self prescribe. I’m all for free enterprise and capitalism but Pharma is an immoral industry . They have put the dollar ahead of service. I remember the days of compounding and an Rx could be bought for less then a buck. Yes the number of pharmaceutical has increased but they are far over priced. Baloney- the cost of bringing a drug to market. It’s far less then they spend on TV advertising.

I have had instances of pica since I was very young – coal, stones, crunchy stuff – it’s the crunch I want. At the moment I am eating Werther’s candies for the crunch and I have gained 10 lbs. I am eating up to 20 a day one after the other. I’d love to get over them. I have tried other crunchy candies, but Werther’s are my favourite for their buttery taste. I have pernicious anemia and I am always anemic, so I am always on iron. What do you suggest to get over this addiction? Thank you.

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