Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pica: Unearthing a hidden dietary behavior

Date:
October 24, 2012
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
A new study is showing that pica – and particularly geophagy, or the eating of soil or clay – is far more prevalent in Madagascar, one of the few areas of the world where it had gone unreported, than researchers previously thought. The research also suggests that the behavior may be more prevalent worldwide, particularly among men, than initially believed.

Though it was identified as a disorder as early as the 14th century, pica, or the eating of non-food items, has for years believed to be all but non-existent in a few corners of the globe -- a 2006 study that reviewed research on pica found just four regions -- the South of South America, Japan, Korea and Madagascar -where the behavior had never been observed.

A new Harvard study, however, is showing that pica -- and particularly geophagy, or the eating of soil or clay, is far more prevalent in Madagascar, and may be more prevalent worldwide, than researchers previously thought.

As described in an October 17 paper published in PLoS ONE, Christopher Golden '05, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and colleagues from Madagascar Health and Environmental Research, Universitι d'Antananarivo and Cornell University surveyed 760 people living in 16 villages in the northeastern corner of the island nation, and found that more than half had engaged in geophagy.

"We found the practice, though somewhat concealed, is incredibly widespread in Madagascar," Golden said. "Perhaps even more interesting, our findings suggest that the population that is engaging in this behavior doesn't fit with the traditional characterization of pica."

In earlier studies of pica, researchers found nearly all cases occurred in adolescents or pregnant women- periods of increased nutritional demands. As expected, Golden and colleagues found high rates of both pica and geophagy among women in Madagascar, but they were surprised to uncover equally high rates among men, and even observed cases of young children as young as five years old engaging in the behavior.

Among the men surveyed by the researchers, 63 percent admitted to geophagy, while 44 percent of children and a quarter of adolescent males also engaged in the practice. Though most often associated with pregnancy, the researchers also found that just over a quarter of non-pregnant women engaged in the behavior.

"We found no significant difference between men and women," Golden said. "That suggests that sex is unimportant to the behavior, and that's never been shown before. To be fair, it may simply be that the behavior hasn't been studied in men because earlier studies had focused on pregnant women, but it also suggests that we should be asking question about both sexes and across all ages to fully understand the motivations for this behavior."

One explanation for the seemingly high rate of the behavior, Golden explained, is that soil is a key component of a natural medicine called aody andro, used by many Malagasy people as a "good luck" medicine to avoid becoming sick.

"It doesn't fit into the strict definition of pica, because it's not a craving, they're using it to self-medicate," Golden said. "But that could account for part of the reason the practice seems to be so widespread."

While the study doesn't speculate as to why people in Madagascar engage in pica or geophagy -- the two most popular theories suggest that people are absorbing nutrients like iron, zinc and magnesium from the soil, or that the soil acts as a natural de-worming treatment -- Golden said he hopes to answer those questions with additional research.

"These questions fall under the larger umbrella of what I'm interested in exploring, which is environmental resource use and human health," he said. "It would be interesting to see if the soils are imparting any nutritional benefits.

"But additionally, this research is interesting because it begs for further analysis of other areas of the world," he added. "It could be that Madagascar is a very unique case because men engage in this behavior as widely as women, but it could also be that the earlier methods we used to research this slanted the results in a particular way because of the way researchers approached the subject."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Christopher D. Golden, B. J. Rodolph Rasolofoniaina, Rakoto Benjamin, Sera L. Young. Pica and Amylophagy Are Common among Malagasy Men, Women and Children. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (10): e47129 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047129

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Pica: Unearthing a hidden dietary behavior." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024111524.htm>.
Harvard University. (2012, October 24). Pica: Unearthing a hidden dietary behavior. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024111524.htm
Harvard University. "Pica: Unearthing a hidden dietary behavior." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024111524.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Gilead's $1000-a-Pill Drug Could Cure Hep C in HIV-Positive People

Gilead's $1000-a-Pill Drug Could Cure Hep C in HIV-Positive People

TheStreet (July 21, 2014) — New research shows Gilead Science's drug Sovaldi helps in curing hepatitis C in those who suffer from HIV. In a medical study, the combination of Gilead's Hep C drug with anti-viral drug Ribavirin cured 76% of HIV-positive patients suffering from the most common hepatitis C strain. Hepatitis C and related complications have been a top cause of death in HIV-positive patients. Typical medication used to treat the disease, including interferon proteins, tended to react badly with HIV drugs. However, Sovaldi's %1,000-a-pill price tag could limit the number of patients able to access the treatment. TheStreet's Keris Lahiff reports from New York. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) — Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Research on plaque from ancient teeth shows that our prehistoric ancestor's had a detailed understanding of plants long before developing agriculture. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Contaminated Water Kills 3 Babies in South African Town

Contaminated Water Kills 3 Babies in South African Town

AFP (July 18, 2014) — Contaminated water in South Africa's northwestern town of Bloemhof kills three babies and hospitalises over 500 people. The incident highlights growing fears over water safety in South Africa. Duration: 02:22 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins