At lunchtime, most hungry people may go to the nearest restaurant. There are varieties of food to choose from, traditional foods, Italian, Chinese, Indian. Fast food and the pizza deliveries are just a phone call away. Moreover, you are not on a tight budget as it is end of the month. Then, why do some people, especially women, decide to go to that nearest termite mound and anthills to eat soil, when there are so many appetizing and delicious foods out there?
Eating soil has become a widespread practice throughout the world. Most women have done it and are still doing it. What you may be more surprised to learn, though, is that purposely eating soil, a practice known as geophagia, used to be common in expectant and lactating women, perhaps related to their heightened sense of smell and taste. But now everyone is doing it regardless of whether they are pregnant or not.
I once did it myself and do not know what really triggered it. Though I did it, I did not eat every type of soil, but choose only clays that are smoothest. Interestingly though, as a result of eating soil everyday I did not suffer any health problems, and just decided to get iron supplements because I had heard that it is caused by lack of iron.
What I have observed is that the appetite for eating soil usually ends up reaching the level of addiction. The Sunday Standard asked some of the ladies who are in this habit to find out what really causes it. Most people interviewed said they eat soil simply to relieve anxiety, and they emphasized that the craving often hits them immediately after rain.
Mophuti Tswiio from Kanye said that one can neither sleep nor have appetite for food until they taste some soil. She also said her urge to eat soil becomes stronger when she is agitated.
“When I’m angry that is when I eat more soil. After eating it, I become calm,” explained Tswiio.
She said eating soil makes her stomach feel full and relieves hunger pangs sometimes.
According to 30-year-old Bantle Ramasuhu of Jwaneng, eating soil can be a learned behavior. “I used to stay with my aunt who was expecting then, and she would eat soil almost everyday. We would go together to collect it in the nearby forest and I ended up eating it too.”
Ramasuhu said up to now, she has not experienced any health problems.
Kanye-born and bred Thapelo Phirinyane aged 24, who has been eating soil since 2001, said her urge to eat soil usually becomes particularly strong after rain. “The soil smells really nice when it’s raining, wherever you are, in the house or field,” she stated. Though she eats soil a lot, she says she sometimes experiences pains in the stomach which, to the touch, feels like there is something hard inside. “This sometimes really scares me a lot because I know soil is not digestible. Despite that, I really can’t stop eating soil,” said Thapelo.
A lady from Jwaneng Police Service, who used to eat soil, said craving for soil is the same as that of food. “Once the urge hits you, you cannot even eat food before you have soil. I’m happy now that I’ve stopped that habit,” she added.
Whether through obsessive craving, an instinctive need for nutrients or pure accident, many people ingest soil. But what about toxic trace elements?
“Anyone who puts their hands in the soil could be exposed to the chemical elements it contains,” said a Princess Marina nurse who asked not to be named. Aside from getting dirt in your mouth she stressed that there are risks associated with eating soil. Some soils, she said, can actually deplete certain nutrients, which can cause deficiencies. “Soil can deplete iron in your blood, and the urge for it won’t go away but keeps getting stronger until you do something about it,” she added
She said another risk is lead poisoning, or, if aluminum is in the soil, an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But even if you locate clean, parasite-free, lead-free, aluminum-free soil, the simple act of chewing it can cause excessive tooth wear, she warned the eaters.
A doctor form Polani Private Clinic in Francistown told this paper that soil can harbour the eggs and larvae of parasites, which, once ingested, are free to make themselves at home in intestinal tract. “Sometimes eating soil can even cause complications, especially in pregnant women by reducing hemoglobin (red blood cells in our body that carries oxygen),” he said.
“Ever since I got into this profession, reasons for eating soil have been poorly understood,” said Dr Matlhare in Kanye. “What I’ve found out is that people who eat soil usually are those who are under stress and have nervous tension. It can also be a learned habit.” He added that eating soil can even cause anemia, a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen in the body. This is very dangerous as it can make one feel tired all the time, he added.
Soil-eating, or “geophagia,” turns out to be common in many traditional societies, possibly an instinctive way of supplementing a diet deficient in trace minerals like iron and zinc, says New Scientist magazine. Canadian scientists who analyzed ingested soils from China, Zimbabwe and the United States found them to contain iron, calcium and potassium, and (in Zimbabwe) kaolinite, used for treating diarrhea. “Eating soil can be good for you,” said the researchers from www.findarticles.com , but beware of parasitic infections.
According to two researchers from the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, UK, the tradition of soil consumption is still very much alive in the African tropics, India, Jamaica and it has also been reported in Saudi Arabia. Despite the advent of modern religions and the end of the slave trade, soil eating is not uncommon, though mostly confined to the poorer sections of society.