Monday, May 10, 2010

Medical Mondays: Mmm, I'll have a side of dirt with that burger.


Today's post is about pica, a medical disorder where people eat non-food items. Pica comes from the latin word for magpie, a bird known to eat all sorts of weird substances and objects.

People with pica may have cravings for and eat an assortment of non-food items, such as soil, coins, chalk, paper, coal, feces. They may have an odd craving for food items that aren't usually eaten in large quantities, such as ice, salt, flour, or raw rice.

Pica is thought to occur because people have a mineral deficiency (usually-iron deficiency) that causes cravings. It can also be a culturally-specific craving. For instance, white clay (kaolin) has been observed in some African and African-American populations and is not associated with any pathology. Kaolin ingestion may actually be protective, absorbing plant toxins or alkaloids.

In kids, pica can lead to lead poisoning or parasite ingestion, especially with eating dirt of feces of animals.

Who has pica? Typically it's seen in kids, pregnant women, and children with developmental disorders.

I think it's fascinating that our bodies could see food in the objects around us if the conditions were right. It's bizarre yet life-affirming at the same time.

And I thought of the old fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. Maybe that wasn't a gingerbread candy house. Maybe Hansel and Gretel were poor, malnourished kids who just had pica. Maybe?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at


I will usually answer your question by email within a day or two, but post later so you don't have to wait a long time to get back to your WIP. All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

42 comments:

Matthew Rush said...

Boy that's pretty gross. But you make a great point about Hansel and Gretel, you never know.

Paul C said...

This is an interesting focus for Mondays. Very interesting, along with your funny illustration.

Tina Laurel Lee said...

Pica is so intriguing. Now I am wondering how to put it in my novel.

MissV said...

I love your illustrations!

I've heard of this just didn't know what it was called. Both my sisters had the ice-chewing thing (I suppose we should be thankful it was ice and not dirt). They would eat ice ALL DAY LONG. One started taking iron supplements and for the other it was a symptom of another problem. They're ice free now. lol

B.E. Sanderson said...

Bizarre. I won't even try sushi and there are people out in the world eating chalk. Eww.

Love the new blog look, btw. =o)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've heard of pica - it's really gross.

Jaydee Morgan said...

This is new to me - and not something I've ever thought about. It's interesting though and I always love learning new things. You never know when they will come in handy.

Christina Lee said...

oh yeah...very familiar with this one having been a spec. ed. teacher! My sister is a nurse in the endoscopy unit and they get return patients who swallow a multitude of things. SO fascinating!
I've got one for you: Can a child die from a hole in the heart (nowadays, with the latest technology available) and if so, how? Bacterial infection etc.?
THANK YOU in advance !

Indigo said...

I watched a program recently where a young girl would eat chalk in large quantities. Later in the program she had been diagnosed with pica.

I think you may be on to something with Hansel and Gretel. All the old folk tales were meant originally as a way to teach children a lesson.

Stopped by Laura's already. (Hugs)Indigo

Mayowa said...

Lydia,

I'm going to stop watching Scrubs and Mercy (yes this gangsta watches Mercy religiously). Your medical mondays have the interesting info on lockdown!

Jayne said...

I love the idea that Hansel and Gretel had pica! I think the original tale was told to warn against gluttony, probably in poor families who didn't have enough food anyway. But it probably also served to warn against nibbling the window sills! I don’t think I have ever had pica, although I did go through a toothpaste eating incident when I was little. Mmm... minty freshness... :)

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Christina,
I'd be happy to tackle that for next monday. Great question!

I love how half the comments here are "Gross" and half are like "oh, so that's what that's called".
Sorry if I'm grossing you all out, but that's par for the course on this Monday series!

beth said...

Oh! Oh! I remember reading about this when I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. So cool!

Melissa Sarno said...

I am oddly intrigued by pica... I just think it's so fascinating. I think you may be right about hansel and gretel. In fact, I bet you the witch really stuck her head in the oven because she wanted to eat the metal rack ;-)

Janet Johnson said...

What a great post! Fascinating. Yet disturbing at the same time. :) Love it!

Creepy Query Girl said...

For once I'd already heard about a medical condition before discovering it on your blog! lol. I didn't really have pica when I was pregnant but I did love to chew ice.

Jamie Grey said...

Interesting! I wonder if animals cana have pica too? I have a cat that's constantly licking window screens and basement walls...

T. Anne said...

I've heard of kids eating toilet paper and strange things like that. I've always wondered why in the world but I guess an imabalance of some sorts would make sense.

Taryn Tyler said...

Reminds me of the children's book "Gregory the Eater"

Emily Ann Benedict said...

Wow, that's weird. I've never heard of this disorder before. :?

I love the new look of your blog, btw. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Whoa! I had no idea there was such a thing. It's kind of fascinating, in a weird way. :-)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Weird disorder. I've heard of some women developing pica when they are pregnant and eating chalk and stuff.

Saumya said...

There was an episode of Private Practice where a boy had pica. So crazy!! Thanks for sharing :)

Talli Roland said...

I have heard about this. It's strangely fascinating!

JustineDell said...

I watched a medical show about this once, reinactments and all, and it was pretty gross to see the things people have eaten in real life. Gross!

~JD

Olivia Carter said...

Until I had both my babies I had severe Iron Deficiency Anemia (mostly caused by extremely heavy periods) & actually had PICA though I didn't know what it was until I was in college.

Mostly I craved ICE- like CRAVED it. Certain kinds & all the time- I was OBSESSED! But I also thought the smell of dirt and chalk dust smelled good. I would have NEVER eaten it but it smelled good- almost appetizing. Which sounds totally bizzaro if you haven't experienced it.

I didn't realize it was weird & I figured everyone felt that way (people always say fresh wet dirt smells good). It wasn't until I had my babies, now have a regular period, & have good iron levels (and no longer have pica & crave any of those things anymore) that I see how strange it really was. Now even the thought of chewing ice freaks me out.

So, that's my firsthand account of having PICA and if anyone has any questions about it feel free to ask.

Susan R. Mills said...

I just saw a show with this disorder. I thought it was made up. Interesting. Thanks for the info.

Shannon said...

Fascinating. I haven't heard of this disorder. WebMD here I come. :) Thanks for teaching me something new.

P.S. I really like the slant on Hansel and Gretel.

-Shannon

Lydia Kang said...

Hey Olivia,
Thanks so much for sharing your story. I too know people (friends and patients) who have had PICA, especially with ice, and they just couldn't understand what it was about. Today you're our expert! I'm so glad the problem is now over!
Lydia

arlee bird said...

I had heard of pica, but never thought much about it. The thought about Hansel and Gretel is an interesting one.

This disorder reminded me of the old sideshow geek act where the performer would eat paper, cigarettes, and a whole array of other things before culminating in eating light bulbs and glass.

Lee
May 17th Fifteen Fantasy Island Favorites

lbdiamond said...

Great post! Some think eating ice cubes is a form of pica as well. Have you heard this?

Jemi Fraser said...

My mom grew up during WWII - and ate unscented candles quite regularly. The doctor said it was probably because of a vitamin or mineral deficiency and to not worry about it. When more foods were available she stopped. I didn't realize it could involve so many different items.

Cynthia Reese said...

You know, I've always thought the first person who cracked open and ate an egg had to be PLENTY brave. :-)

Jen said...

My co-worker and I were just talking about a woman who couldn't help but eat a piece of chalk and she loved to drink detergent, I found it disgusting but I understand at times it's a disease however it's still a bit nutty.

She only stopped drinking the detergent when her doctor told her it was killing her liver but she still eats the chalk. Yuck!

Solvang Sherrie said...

Whoa! I had no idea there was a medical name for this! How wild!

notesfromnadir said...

I laughed when I saw the title!

There are so many strange people in the world that I can buy into this. But as Jen who posted at 8:10 pm wrote about drinking detergent, I can only grimace! My soapmaking friends would be just as weirded out about that as we know only too well how it's for external use only! Didn't know it was bad for the liver, so thanks for that info.

Lydia, I really enjoyed your way of presenting this and now I feel a little smarter. But I crave chocolate, not dirt! :)

Lydia Kang said...

I hope you all crave chocolate, not dirt! Glad it's been informative!

Alexis said...

You've unwrapped a childhood mystery.
When I was young I had this friend. Her name, I can't remember. BUT! We use to make mud pies and she would actually EAT them. I'll bet she had Pica!!

Alexis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary said...

Wow! I thought I had weird food cravings sometimes.
Kewl. :)

Heather said...

My son has pica- and I don't think people understand how upsetting it is for parents. How would you feel if you were sat down to have a lovely picnic in the park and your two year old runs off to eat soil- I can't even have a potted plant in the house. He also picks holes in my walls to eat the plaster. I've been waiting over a month to get my doctor to see him. By the time we get there I might need medication myself! My son is loved and has three proper meals a day with at least 5 portions of fruit and veg- he is advanced in speach and can count- he was walking at 9 months, so he's not retarded. It's just breaking my heart.

 
ALL CONTENT © 2012 THE WORD IS MY OYSTER / BLOG DESIGN © 2012 SMITTEN BLOG DESIGNS