Eat Dirt! Reason Behind Odd Behavior Of Eating Soil Unveiled By Researchers

First Posted: Dec 14, 2016 02:20 AM EST

If one has ever seen the TLC show, My Strange Addiction, one would know that people eat the strangest things. Some of the things people eat, not necessarily food, are chalk, rocks, cat hair, mattresses, dry wall and someone's ashes. These behaviors can be chalked up to psychiatric problems. However, it seems that the odd behavior of eating soil is quite common around the world. The habit of eating soil has health benefits but people, scientists in particular, are baffled by why people eat soil. A recent study claims that besides its health benefits, eating soil is an addictive behavior.

Geophagy or soil eating is a practice once common for Asian and European countries. Currently, the habit of soil eating is commonly seen in African countries and some places in the world including the United States. According to a study published in The Quarterly Review of Biology by a student researcher from Cornell University, about 30 to 60 percent pregnant or recently pregnant women eat soil.

According to the researcher, Sera Young, pregnant women and young children eat soil because it has a soothing effect on their stomach. "This clay [soil] can either bind to harmful things, like microbes, pathogens and viruses, that we are eating or can make a barrier, like a mud mask for our gut," Young added.

In some African countries, eating soil, especially for women, could indicate that the woman in question is pregnant or about to be pregnant. Male Africans are also known to eat soil because they believe it is a natural stimulant. Around 100 to 400 grams of clayey soil is sold and eaten in Africa as it is not only known to fill the stomach, but it is also cheap.

However, the very reason why people eat soil is still baffling scientists. Nothing is clear about this habit of soil eating, and this behavior has been mostly gone unresearched until now. A study conducted by MedUni Vienna tackles the "why" in geophagy.

Published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the researchers found out that geophagy is a craving that is similar to eating chocolate for most people. People are known to say that they cannot do without eating soil and often eat clayey soil in between meals like a snack.

In other words, besides the health benefits of geophagy, soil eating is due to its being an addictive behavior. This is quite alarming as addictive behavior could push the people to overconsume soil. This is bad as consumption of soil in large quantities could lead to more health risks especially for pregnant women and young children.

But as head of the study Ruth Kutalek says that although there is a recommendation to stop geophagy, it is difficult to implement. Addictive behavior like geophagy cannot be changed overnight, so people who eat soil are advised to reduced their consumption.

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