Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Food Blog For People With Pica

Slow-roasted Safety Pins and Matchsticks atop a Bed of Spiced Steamed Dirt

A Food Blog For People With Pica

by Jessica Adinolfi

This is a family recipe that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. I've served this at potlucks, summer barbecues, and as a quick mid-week family dinner.

Serves 6-8

2 cups dirt (may substitute with potting soil or other favorite earth derivative)
1/2 cup fresh safety pins
1/2 cup organic matchsticks, burned to your taste

Roast safety pins at 350˚F while dirt is steaming and matchsticks are burning.

Season to taste, and serve with your toppings of choice. I like buttons, metal bolts, rocks, or bits of paper.

             Bon app├ętit!

I am totally kidding! Well, kind of. You see, there actually are people that eat non-nutritive, non-food items such as those described above. This condition is called pica (1, 2, 3, 4). Some other non-food items commonly consumed by people with pica include the following: ice, ash, clay, soap, chalk, charcoal, baking soda, plaster, paper, cloth, hair, paint, animal droppings, sand, pebbles, and dirt (1, 3, 4). Geophagia (mud eating) is considered to be the most common form of pica worldwide (1).

These are some of the more common forms of pica. After your appetizer of feces, you might want to try some laundry starch.

Pica has been found to be most prevalent in poverty-stricken people, tropical areas, and tribal cultures (1). Also, it is more common in females, especially pregnant women (1, 3, 4). You may have known a pregnant woman that had unusual cravings (maybe pizza with pickles and peanut butter, but kit kat lasagna doesn't sound too bad).

A study conducted on pregnant women in Tanzania showed the majority of the women had food cravings, food aversions, and 64% had some form of pica (4).

The cause of this condition remains unclear; however, numerous studies have been performed to determine why these people are eating such bizarre stuff. The two main theories are 1) compensation for a micronutrient deficiency and 2) nausea relief (1, 3). Specifically, there are numerous cases that support  a relationship between anemia and pica (1, 3, 4), and when given iron supplements, pica cravings stop (3).

From a meta-analysis, a strong positive association between pica
(in the form of geophagy) and anemia was observed (3).

On the other hand, studies have shown that nutrient deficiencies are caused by pica, rather than nutrient deficiencies causing this unusual behavior. Pica materials may bind to the mucosal layer of the gut, thereby preventing absorption of micronutrients. These materials may also absorb micronutrients in ingested food, preventing them from being metabolized (3). More recent studies have found that the association between pica and iron deficiency may be linked with decreased dopamine levels (1).

As you can imagine, there are numerous health risks that may result from this practice. Pica practicers are susceptible to electrolyte and metabolic disorders, lead and mercury poisoning, parasitic infections, and intestinal obstruction/perforation (1). The following clip shows a woman that has battled with eating an unusual non-food item since she was a child, and is ready to make a change.

Although there is still much to learn about pica, one conclusion seems unanimous: eating non-food items poses many potential health concerns. It is recommended that cravings for non-food items should be discouraged as there is no known nutritional benefit of such habits and it can lead to intestinal problems like abdominal pain and infection or many other problems (4). The following woman has added an interesting social component to her practice of pica.

(1) Bhatia, M.S. and J. Kaur. 2014. Pica as a culture bound syndrome. Delhi Psychiatry Journal 17(1):144-147.

(2) Lacey, E.P. 1990. Broadening the perspective of pica: literature review. Public Health Reports 105(1):29-35.
(3) Miao, D., S.L. Young, and C.D. Golden. 2015. A meta-analysis of pica and micronutrient status. American Journal of Human Biology 27:84-93.

(4) Nyaruhucha, C.N.M. 2009. Food cravings, aversions and pica among pregnant women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Tanzania Journal of Health Research 11(1):29-34.


1 comment:

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