What It Really Means When You Want To Eat Dirt

Pica is an eating disorder in which people persistently consume items not considered to be food, such as dirt, hair, or paint chips. According to Family Doctor, pica can occur in adults, but is more common in children, particularly those with developmental or intellectual disabilities. In fact, up to 30% of children aged one to six have pica. Clay, dirt, and flaking paint are some of the most common non-food items people eat when they have pica. In addition to dirt, people with pica may also eat cigarettes, glue, or ashes, but these items are not as common. With pica, the items people eat don't hold any nutritional value or purpose.

Those affected by pica may experience a wide range of symptoms due to eating non-food items. Items eaten may contain bacteria and toxic materials which can result in unpleasant symptoms, especially when it comes to gut health. Symptoms of pica include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, blood in stools, and fatigue, Verywell Health reports. Depending on what a person eats, intestines can be blocked by certain foods that are unable to be digested, teeth can become damaged, or a person may develop an infection or symptoms of lead poisoning.

Causes of pica

The exact cause of pica is still unknown, however, researchers have learned about what puts a person at risk of developing pica. For example, people who show warning signs of pica may be nutritionally deficient, specifically in iron, zinc, or calcium, the Cleveland Clinic reports. Pica may also be caused by mental health conditions or medical conditions, such as sickle cell anemia and pregnancy. Some people may also develop pica as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety.

People who notice signs of pica in themselves or their children should visit a doctor immediately to avoid complications. There's no specific test for pica, so treatment is based on your medical history. Before you're treated, a doctor may have to perform a blood test or psychological evaluation to determine if a nutrient deficiency or mental health condition is behind pica, according to Healthline. Treatment for pica varies by person, but may include medication, supplements, or therapy. Pica may go away in a few months for many, but it's possible for the eating disorder to last longer, particularly for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.