Weird, wacky & wonderful: Pica

If this is true I’ll eat my hat; Manuella Aturia explores the curious appetite of people with Pica.

26th October 2015

When the end of term approaches and our student bank account figures dwindle, it is common for many of us to crave mum’s home cooked meals. This is due to the fact that tea time often consists of a pack of noodles, or toast with a bowl of cereal once in a while, to provide some variation in the otherwise repetitive menu.

However, the majority of students wouldn’t crave eating hair, faeces, or cigarette butts as a replacement for their mundane student meals. Objects such as those mentioned above are daily choices for consumption by those with Pica.

Pica is the continuous eating of non-nutritional items over a period of at least a month. The term for this eating  habit anomaly originated from the Latin word for magpie, possibly named after the bird’s unusual eating habits. Pica is more common amongst young children in comparison to adults,  as between 10% and 32% of children ages 1 to 6 have these behaviours, according to the U.S National Library of Medicine.

The causes of this unusual disorder can vary: from individuals who yearn for the textures and flavours of inedible items, to the effects of other conditions such as schizophrenia. However, pica is most often the result of iron deficiency, anaemia. As a result of these causes, people with pica frequently eat soil, sponges and ice to name a few and some have even claimed to have eaten light bulbs, needles and bricks. Treatment plans for pica generally involve providing a supplement for mineral deficiencies and addressing any psychological issues through therapy, as well as medical tests such as x-rays which may lead to surgery.

Having said all this, it may come as a surprise to you that in some cultures, the consumption of pica substances is acceptable. In some rural areas of India ladies eat clay, ash and charcoal in response to pregnancy cravings and some ethnic groups in Tanzania relate the eating of soil to fertility, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

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