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Eating dirt can be good for the belly, researchers find
University of Chicago Press Journals ^ | June 2, 2011 | Unknown

Posted on 06/02/2011 3:24:23 PM PDT by decimon

Most of us never considered eating the mud pies we made as kids, but for many people all over the world, dining on dirt is nothing out of the ordinary. Now an extensive meta-analysis forthcoming in the June issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology helps explain why.

According to the research, the most probable explanation for human geophagy—the eating of earth—is that it protects the stomach against toxins, parasites, and pathogens.

The first written account of human geophagy comes from Hippocrates more than 2,000 years ago, says Sera Young, a researcher at Cornell University and the study's lead author. Since then, the eating of earth has been reported on every inhabited continent and in almost every country.

Despite its ubiquity, scientists up to now have been unable to definitively explain why people crave earth. Several hypotheses had been considered plausible. Some researchers think geophagy is simply a consequence of food shortage. In other words, people eat dirt to ease the pangs of hunger, even though it doesn't provide any nutritional value. Others have suggested that nutrition is exactly why dirt is consumed; perhaps people crave dirt because it provides nutrients they lack, such as iron, zinc, or calcium. Still others posit that earth has a protective effect, working as a shield against ingested parasites, pathogens, and plant toxins.

To sort through the possible explanations, Young and her colleagues analyzed reports from missionaries, plantation doctors, explorers, and anthropologists to put together a database of more than 480 cultural accounts of geophagy. The database includes as many details as possible about the circumstances under which earth was consumed, and by whom. The researchers could then use patterns in the data to evaluate each potential explanation.

They found the hunger hypothesis unlikely. Studies in the database indicate that geophagy is common even when food is plentiful. Moreover, when people eat dirt they tend to eat only small quantities that are unlikely to fill an empty stomach.

The nutrition hypothesis was also a poor fit to the data. The database shows that the kind of earth people eat most often is a type of clay that contains low amounts of nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium. Plus, if calcium deficiency drove people to eat dirt, one would expect them to do it most often at life stages when they need calcium the most—adolescence or old age. But that isn't the case, according to the database. Reports do indicate that geophagy is often associated with anemia, but several studies have shown that cravings for earth continue even after people are given iron supplements. What's more, some research suggests that clay can bind to nutrients in the stomach, making them hard to digest. If that's true, it's not a lack of nutrients that causes geophagy; rather it could be the other way around.

Overall, the protection hypothesis fits the data best, the Cornell researchers found. The database shows that geophagy is documented most commonly in women in the early stages of pregnancy and in pre-adolescent children. Both categories of people are especially sensitive to parasites and pathogens, according to Young and her colleagues. In addition, geophagy is most common in tropical climates where foodborne microbes are abundant. Finally, the database shows that people often eat earth during episodes of gastrointestinal stress. It's unlikely the intestinal problems are caused by the dirt itself because the type of clay people usually eat comes from deep in the ground, where pathogens and parasites are unlikely to contaminate it. Plus, people usually boil the clay before eating it.

More study would be helpful to confirm the protection hypothesis, the researchers say, but the available data at this point clearly support it over the other explanations.

"We hope this paper stimulates [more] research," Young and her colleagues write. "More importantly, we hope readers agree that it is time to stop regarding geophagy as a bizarre, non-adaptive gustatory mistake."

"With these data, it is clear that geophagy is a widespread behavior in humans … that occurs during both vulnerable life stages and when facing ecological conditions that require protection."

###

Sera L. Young, Paul W. Sherman, Julius Beau Lucks, Gretel H. Pelto, "Why on Earth?: Evaluating Hypotheses about the Physiological Functions of Human Geophagy." The Quarterly Review of Biology 86:2 (June 2011).

Young has also released a book on the subject called Craving Earth: Understanding Pica—the Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk.

The premier review journal in biology since 1926, The Quarterly Review of Biology publishes articles in all areas of biology but with a traditional emphasis on evolution, ecology, and organismal biology. QRB papers do not merely summarize a topic, but offer important new ideas, concepts, and syntheses. They often shape the course of future research within a field. In addition, the book review section of the QRB is the most comprehensive in biology.


TOPICS: Food; Health/Medicine
KEYWORDS: eatdirt; eatingdirt; geophagy; pica
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1 posted on 06/02/2011 3:24:27 PM PDT by decimon
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To: neverdem; DvdMom; grey_whiskers; Ladysmith; Roos_Girl; Silentgypsy; conservative cat; ...

Pearl S. Buck ping.


2 posted on 06/02/2011 3:25:18 PM PDT by decimon
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To: decimon

Are they setting us up for the coming food shortage? I know in third world countries they feed their kids dirt to keep their tummies full.


3 posted on 06/02/2011 3:26:40 PM PDT by cableguymn
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To: cableguymn

50 million North Koreans can’t be wrong.


4 posted on 06/02/2011 3:27:54 PM PDT by EQAndyBuzz (Sarah Palin - She’s living rent-free inside the MSM’s heads. Credited to Lurk)
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To: decimon
Eating dirt can be good for the belly, researchers find

Preparatory info / recommendation for citizens hard hit by Obama policies in the last year of the his administration?

5 posted on 06/02/2011 3:28:39 PM PDT by MamaDearest
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To: decimon

North Koreans must be super healthy.


6 posted on 06/02/2011 3:28:39 PM PDT by FrdmLvr (Death to tyrants)
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To: cableguymn

I will not eat dirt to ward off toxins and things like that. Does not even make sense. Going by 2000 years ago is really stupid. They better have a ton of studies before they even consider such a thing.


7 posted on 06/02/2011 3:28:42 PM PDT by napscoordinator
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To: decimon

Next time I drop a pork chop on the ground, I can give it to uncle Carl without feeling bad.


8 posted on 06/02/2011 3:30:17 PM PDT by Defiant (When Democrats lose voters, they manufacture new voters instead of convincing the existing voters.)
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To: decimon
A woman in Haiti selling mud cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening.

Yum yum /s

9 posted on 06/02/2011 3:31:26 PM PDT by DeoVindiceSicSemperTyrannis (Want to make $$$? It's easy! Use FR as a platform to pimp your blog for hits!!!)
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To: decimon

Not dirt from my yard...I own dogs.


10 posted on 06/02/2011 3:32:51 PM PDT by King Moonracer (Bad lighting and cheap fabric, that's how you sell clothing.....)
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To: napscoordinator

Dirt is nothing...Ever read what type of critters are allowed in a can of tuna.


11 posted on 06/02/2011 3:33:03 PM PDT by Sacajaweau
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To: Sacajaweau

Yuk and I don’t even want to know. lol.


12 posted on 06/02/2011 3:34:18 PM PDT by napscoordinator
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To: decimon
I will be 50 years old in Sept. my mom and Dad told me that when I was an infant I would sit under a shade tree in a sweet potato field and would eat dirt all day. When we moved to town the year I started school a black lady cleaned our house and baby sat my younger brother and me. She would cook some kind of dirt in a boiler on top of the stove, only dirt nothing else. The dirt looked like flower a white powder. The lady said it came from around the roots of trees and she would eat it a tablespoon at a time.
13 posted on 06/02/2011 3:39:40 PM PDT by Hotmetal (Some people........)
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To: decimon

Well, I went to Vitacost, where I get my supplements, and looked up “dirt.” It asked me if I meant “diet”?

So I looked up “clay.” And I did find one diet supplement, although there must be a cheaper way of eating dirt, I would think. But I hesitate to just dig it up, because I suppose you need the right kind of clay.

http://www.vitacost.com/Redmond-RealSalt-Clay


14 posted on 06/02/2011 3:40:23 PM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: Cicero

Then there’s Dead Sea Mud, but that’s apparently used as a facial mask, to make your skin look good.

http://www.vitacost.com/Sea-Minerals-Mud-from-The-Dead-Sea/?bnPageBox=pp_alsoviewed&vbnpid=61488


15 posted on 06/02/2011 3:44:17 PM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: decimon

Don’t tell the GOP.


16 posted on 06/02/2011 3:49:19 PM PDT by Track9 (Make War!!)
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To: decimon

Dirt has natural antibiotic properties from what I reead somwehere. The develpment of penicillin & other antibiotics was the direct result of observing that bacteria did not grow rampantly in soils.


17 posted on 06/02/2011 3:54:54 PM PDT by bopdowah ("Unlike King Midas, whatever the Gubmint touches sure don't turn to Gold!')
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To: decimon

My dad has a saying that you have to eat a pound of dirt to grow up.


18 posted on 06/02/2011 4:01:19 PM PDT by libbylu (Sarah is running!)
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To: decimon
There is a popular antidiarrheal medication called Kaopectate, because its original ingredients were kaolinite (a type of clay) and pectin. It is still available in that form as a veterinary medicine:

Suspected to work by absorbing bacteria and toxins in the intestine and coating the lining of the intestines for additional protection. Kaopectate now has attapulgite [another clay mineral] as the adsorbent instead of kaolin.

http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=0+1303+1459&aid=1431

19 posted on 06/02/2011 4:06:18 PM PDT by hellbender
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To: decimon

One of the stories in my family is how finicky an eater I was. I wouldn’t eat ANY food contaminated with anything else; i.e., my potatoes couldn’t touch my hamburger on the plate, no catsup, etc. I hated eggs and wouldn’t touch anything mom put pepper on. I looked like a stick.

One day she made some grits or something, and put pepper on them. I, always the suspicious one (she was sneaky, always trying to make me eat what I KNOW I didn’t want) asked her if she put pepper on them.

That woman lied to my face and said, oh no, that’s just some dirt. Brush it off and it’ll be fine.

So I ate them. You see, I would eat dirt, but not evil pepper.

Now several hundred lbs later I would give anything to be so finicky about my food again.


20 posted on 06/02/2011 4:06:38 PM PDT by I still care (I miss my friends, bagels, and the NYC skyline - but not the taxes. I love the South.)
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