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Is eating dirt a real thing? What I learned from my dog

    eating dirt pig pen

    I always wondered why my dog came from outside licking his chops after eating dirt. Such a bad dog. Maybe not so. Humans also eat dirt just like dogs. I was curious to find out more about this practice. From pregnant cravings to religious ceremonies dirt eating is still a thing for 2,300 years.

    Eating dirt appears nearly universal among children under 2 years of age. When I asked my 2-year-old daughter why she ate dirt, she just stared at me, her eyes wide open, a thick mustache of loam limning her lips. She must have decided that either what I had asked was unfathomably abstract or her answer would be far beyond my comprehension.

    Dirt eating, also known as geophagia, is when you have the urge to eat dirt. Children sometimes do it, and it has also been linked to pregnancy, some psychological conditions, and nutrient deficiencies. 

    Child or adult, the article says, “each of us inadvertently eats a little dirt every day,” found in “contaminated food, soiled hands and inhaled dust.” Many small children also eat dirt on purpose, usually show no ill effects and usually grow out of the habit.

    There’s very little research supporting the benefits of eating dirt for humans

    • A 2011 review of geophagy in 482 people and 297 animals found evidence to suggest the main reason people eat dirt is the possible protection soil might offer against toxins. But more research is needed to support this theory.
    • Animals often eat dirt or clay when they have diarrhea, stomach distress, or eat poisonous fruit. Bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate), a medication that treats diarrhea, has a mineral makeup that’s similar to kaolinTrusted Source, or the kind of clay some people eat for the same purpose. So eating soil could potentially relieve diarrhea. It may also cause constipation and other concerns if the dirt you eat contains bacteria or parasites.
    • Many pregnant women worldwide eat dirt to help ease morning sickness symptoms, according to 2003 researchTrusted Source. A number of cultures support this practice as a folk remedy, but these benefits are largely anecdotal and haven’t been proven conclusively.
    • Scientific evidence supporting other anecdotal benefits of eating dirt, such as a paler complexion or smoother skin, doesn’t yet exist.

    Experts have noted many risks associated with eating dirt, so in general, the risks of eating dirt may be more significant than any potential benefit, especially if you’re pregnant.

    “A child’s gotta eat their share of dirt.”

    In gas stations and flea markets all around the southeastern United States, you can find a cardboard box full of blocks of white clay. They’re unmarked, but the people looking for them know what they’re for.

    Humans have eaten earth, on purpose, for more than 2,300 years. They also crave starch, ice, chalk, and other unorthodox items of food. Some even claim they are addicted and “go crazy” without these items, but why?

    Craving Earth: Understanding Pica: Sera L. Young creates a portrait of pica, or nonfood cravings, from humans’ earliest ingestions to current trends and practices. In engaging detail, she describes the substances most frequently consumed and the many methods (including the Internet) used to obtain them. She reveals how pica is remarkably prevalent (it occurs in nearly every human culture and throughout the animal kingdom), identifies its most avid partakers (pregnant women and young children), and describes the potentially healthful and harmful effects. She evaluates the many hypotheses about the causes of pica, from the fantastical to the scientific, including hunger, nutritional deficiencies, and protective capacities. Never has a book examined pica so thoroughly or accessibly, merging absorbing history with intimate case studies to illuminate an enigmatic behavior deeply entwined with human biology and culture.