Why Do People Eat Dirt, Chalk or Other Non -food Items?

chalk57283778Why are some people addicted to eating substances that are not food? The answer is that they may have an eating disorder known as pica.  A common characteristic of the disorder is the consistent consumption of non-nutritive substances for at least one month.

There are several reasons why a person may be demonstrating behaviors associated with pica- it could be a chemical imbalance, a nutritional deficiency such as an iron deficiency or an obsessive compulsive disorder.

Pica-related behaviors should be addressed immediately because of the risk of complications that can occur. Individuals could expose themselves to serious infections and medical conditions such as parasitic infestations, ulcers, intestinal obstructions and tooth abrasions.

Symptoms and complications that are commonly linked with pica can include:

  • Eating sand or soil, this potentially leads to gastric pain and bleeding.
  • Consuming clay, which may cause constipation.
  • Ingesting paint, could put a person at risk  for contracting lead poisoning
  • Eating metal objects, this could lead to bowel perforation.

Some people are more likely than others to be subject to this eating disorder.  These individuals may include:

  • Pregnant women (Pica is most common in women with their first pregnancy; they may crave items such as ice or chalk).
  • 10 to 32 percent of children between the ages of one to six.
  • Adults with OCD or schizophrenia.
  • People who are malnourished.
  • Individuals who are mentally or developmentally disabled.

There are several approaches that can be exercised in the treatment of pica. Treatment depends on the diagnosis.  A physician may run blood tests to determine if the reason for the disorder may be a result of a nutritional deficiency. If this is the case, nutrients that are lacking are supplemented.  Another approach may be therapy to address mental health or environmental health issues. It is recommended that a resolution be sought immediately because if left untreated pica can persist for years and may cause irreversible damage.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.