Geophagia denotes the habit of deliberately ingesting earth, soil or clay. Based on different viewpoints geophagia has been regarded as a psychiatric disease, a culturally sanctioned practice or a sequel to poverty and famine. The standard reference guide for psychiatrists—the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)—classifies geophagia as a form of pica –the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its large and indiscriminate appetite. In other terms, pica is known as the persistent eating of non-nutritive substances.
In order to reach a conclusion whether geophagia is abnormal or adaptive, evolutionary approaches were used to determine how common this behavior is in animals and across human societies. If many different species and cultures demonstrate the same behavior, then it is fair to conclude that geophagia must be beneficial in some way. Studies of animals and human cultures have proven that geophagia is in fact not abnormal; hence it must be adaptive.
Investigators have observed geophagia in more than 200 animal species, including parrots, deer, elephants, bats, rabbits, baboons, gorillas and chimpanzees. Furthermore, geophagia has been presented in humans, with records dating to at least the time of Greek physician Hippocrates (460 B.C.). The Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians used clay for medical purposes: they plastered wounds with mud and ate dirt to treat various sicknesses, particularly of the gut.
It is conventionally proven that the reason why animals and people eat dirt is due to the fact that it not only contains minerals, such as calcium, sodium and iron, which support energy production and other vital biological processes, but also eating dirt is a way to get rid of toxins from the body. Negatively charged clay molecules easily bond to positively charged toxins in the stomach and gut—for that reason preventing toxins from entering into the bloodstream by transmitting them through the intestines and out of the body in the form of feces.
To start off, geophagia is most commonly associated with pregnancy. Not only do pregnant women ingest dirt for the reason that they require extra calcium as the fetal skeleton develops, but also for its detoxifying properties. The first trimester of pregnancy plagues many women with nausea and vomiting, and women in sub-Saharan nations and in the southern U.S. have reported that by ingesting clay, it alleviates this discomfort. Seeing as clay...