Soapy Dirt is Delicious? Health Effects of Pica

Although there are so many delicious foods, some people’s favorite foods are particularly unique and unlikely to be accepted by ordinary people. They may like to eat soap, mud, ice cubes or clay, which do not have much nutritional value, and may even Toxic items. This article will introduce you to this special disease called pica, and explain its causes, symptoms and treatment methods.

4 possible causes of pica

The cause of pica is still a mystery, but it can be divided into the following three situations that are more likely to cause pica:

  1. Lack of nutrients:
    Lack of iron or zinc in the human body may increase the risk of pica, for example: patients with iron deficiency anemia and pregnant women; pica in the former will usually heal on its own as the anemia improves. The nutrient deficiency theory may explain the patient’s desire to eat dirt because of its mineral content.
  2. Triggered by mental illness:
    Some patients with mental illness, such as Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Autism, may also develop pica.
  3. Maintaining body shape:
    In order to lose weight or maintain body shape, some people very strictly restrict their diet. When they are extremely hungry and lack nutrition, they may want to eat things that have few calories but can fill their stomachs, resulting in Pica attacks.
  4. Intellectual disability:
    People with intellectual disabilities are more likely than the general population to develop pica, and their symptoms may be more severe and long-lasting.

Symptoms and diagnosis of pica

It is not that easy to be diagnosed with pica. According to the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association, patients must at least have regular and Eating “non-food” continuously for a month can be considered as pica. Therefore, many people eat paper, eraser or toothpaste out of curiosity, or infants and young children under 2 years old often use their mouths to explore the world, and they may put something in their mouth and hold it in their mouths. It cannot be considered a symptom of pica.

People with pica can eat a wide variety of things. In addition to the common ice cubes, soap, and soil, some people even want to eat feces. The examples listed here are just the tip of the iceberg. It is worth mentioning that due to different customs in different places, if the food you eat is influenced by religion or custom, it will not be included in the category of pica.

Regarding the possible impact of pica on health, it depends on what the patient eats. If the patient likes to eat peeling paint, he may ingest too much lead, increasing the risk of lead poisoning; choosing to eat animal feces or soil , the chance of eating parasites together will also increase. In addition to these serious health risks, pica most often causes gastrointestinal discomfort, leading to diarrhea (Diarrhea) or vomiting.

It is worth mentioning that patients with pica will not reduce their willingness to eat normally just because they like to eat “non-food” things. After all, eating dirt or soap can only be regarded as “dessert” if they want to maintain their human body. The energy required for activities still needs to be eaten obediently!

How to Treat Pica

Since pica is included in DSM-5, it means that this disease is considered a mental illness. However, as mentioned earlier, malnutrition or anemia may also be one of the causes of pica. Therefore, doctors are treating When pica occurs, the patient will first be diagnosed with the cause of pica, and then treat the factors that cause the disease. The following are 3 related treatment methods for pica:

  1. Nutritional supplements:
    If the main cause of the disease is malnutrition, the doctor may give the patient vitamin or other nutrient supplements to improve the patient’s nutritional status.
  2. Mental illness:
    For pica caused by mental illness, treatment methods will be developed for this type of mental illness, such as using cognitive behavioral therapy combined with antidepressant drugs to improve obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  3. The harm to the body caused by treating pica:
    Since some patients with pica may have lead poisoning, parasite infection or intestinal blockage, it is also indispensable to diagnose and treat the harm caused by pica according to the situation. To treat lead poisoning, you can use chelation therapy, which is a method of injecting ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) into the body through intravenous injection, so that the body can excrete lead; parasites are treated as Its type and parasitic mode determine how to treat it.

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