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Pica Eating Disorder: When The Inedible is Considered Tasty

We tend to eat anything when we were kids but if you continue to do it in your adulthood, then that is where the pica eating disorder enters the scene. / Photo by: Africa Studio via Shutterstock

 

The urge to taste or place inedible objects in the mouth may be a typical habit of younger children. They often do this to experiment with their senses and interact with the world around them.

However, there are those that do keep engaging in this behavior even when they are past their childhood. This behavior can lead to serious health consequences which are considered to be deadly.

This need to ingest substances that are not edible by general standards is what characterizes the medical condition called Pica Eating Disorder.

The Newport Academy states that Pica is prevalent among pregnant women and that ten to 15% of people with mental and developmental disorders also suffer from this condition.
 

What is Pica?

Pica or Pica Eating Disorder is derived from the Latin term “pica” which means magpie, which is known to eat anything. This implies that this type of eating disorder makes a person consume non-food items.

These inedible items that they eat do not contain any nutritional value.

 

What They Eat

 

 

An individual suffering from Pica may have the desire to devour the following:

- Hair

- Dirt and sand

- Paint chips

- Paper

- Plastic

- Pencil erasers

- Needles

- Soap and laundry starch

- Cloth

- String

- Wool

- Chalk

- Talcum powder

- Metal and wire

- Pebbles and stones

- Vinyl gloves

- Burnt matches

- Moth balls

- Charcoal

- Cigarette butts

- Lightbulbs

- Ash

- Clay

- Starch

- Ice

- Brick

- Coffee grounds

- Feces

 

Symptoms

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, these are the symptoms of a person affected by Pica:

1. Habitual eating of non-food items that continue for more than a month

2. Consumption of substances that are not part of the norm or their cultural practice

3. The eating of these objects must be developmentally inappropriate

4. Not being averse to normal food

Soaps are one of the things people with pica eat. / Photo by: iLpO88 via Shutterstock

 

Causes

Pica is believed to be caused by a lack of important minerals but there may be other reasons why a person is affected by this:

1. Having other health disorders

They may also suffer from other mental disorders such as having autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and an intellectual disability.

 

2. Iron-deficiency anemia and malnutrition

Pregnant women tend to lack iron and other minerals. Having Pica while pregnant is an indication that the body is trying to correct a nutrient deficiency.

 

3. Childhood Experiences

There is an instance found wherein a person who grows older starts to eat inedible objects that remind them of their childhood and their childhood home. This may also be associated with trauma.

 

4. Low levels of dopamine in the brain

Researchers have found that there is a connection to pica and a decline in activity in the dopamine system in the brain.

One of the causes of Pica is anemia. / Photo by: Elnur via Shutterstock


 

Effects

The frequent consumption of inedible items can lead to further complications, Eating Disorder Hope warns. The harmful  effects of ingesting non-food objects include:

 

1. Poisoning

Non-edible items may have lead or other toxic substances in them.

Eating these items may cause them to be poisoned.

 

2. Dental damage

Eating hard objects such as pebbles and rocks may cause the teeth to be broken.

 

3. Nutritional deficiencies

If they start preferring non-food items over edible food, this may lead them to be deprived of proper nutrition.


 

4. Physical damage to the body

Consuming objects that cannot be digested like metal or plastic can block their intestines and other parts of their digestive system. This can also result in constipation, Additionally, eating sharp objects such as glass or needles can cause the intestines to have holes in them.
 

5. Dangerous infection

Eating dirt or other unclean substances can cause a person to acquire bacteria and parasites in their body. This can lead to infections and can harm the kidney or liver.


 

Treatment

A person who wants to be able to cure themselves of pica may undergo health examinations for:

 

1. Mineral deficiencies

If the patient is found to be lacking in important minerals such as iron and zinc, they are usually given vitamins. This often stops them from suffering from pica

 

2. Anemia, intestinal blockages or toxicity from the items they consumed

Being x-rayed can show if the patient has any objects blocking their intestines while blood tests can reveal if they have toxins or other dangerous substances that are their blood.

Individuals who are affected by this condition are advised to consult a healthcare provider. It needs to be addressed immediately.  Otherwise, its symptoms can last for many years. This is especially true for those who co-occurring disorders such as autism.

In most cases, nutritional correction can help heal Pica. Also, it has been found that in pregnant women and most children its symptoms eventually disappear.

Being more informed about Pica’s causes, symptoms and its dangerous effects can help the patient prevent themselves from incurring further damage on their health.

However, if the symptoms still manifest, they may undergo therapy that can change their eating behavior. Employing positive reinforcement which involves distracting them from eating the object and rewarding them for putting it away can be an effective approach to treat Pica Eating Disorder.






 

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