Geophagy: Not Your Average Eating Disorder

Ransom Riggs

We've covered pica here on the blog before -- any one of a number of conditions in which people are compelled to eat things that aren't food -- but compulsively eating urinal cakes or snacking on match heads seems a world away from today's topic, geophagy -- eating dirt. The reason is that, despite a fair amount of disagreement among experts, there are a lot of people who believe eating dirt can have some health benefits. An ingredient found in clay from the Southern US is also one of the main active ingredients in many anti-diarrheal medicines, for instance, and a Science Digest recently recommended swallowing dirt as a quick-fix antidote for people who've accidentally ingested Paraquat, a potent weed killer.

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Eating dirt has long been associated with iron deficiency, and while no one can say for sure whether geophagy is a cause or an effect of needing iron, iron supplements have been shown to reduce the urge. If you simply have a taste for it -- well, that's another matter.

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