Children are likely to put things in their mouth which are not food. It is likely that children do this from time to time. Some adults do this as well, some stick their hair into their mouth, or eat the sleeves of their shirt. There is actually an eating disorder that explains all these behaviors, which is named Pica!
Pica, a disorder that is considered among the eating disorders, is defined as the consumption of non-food items such as soap, hair, soil, paint, glue, which do not have nutritional value, for 1 month or longer. Although pica is a disease that is generally seen in children and women during pregnancy it can also be seen in any age and gender groups. However, the ingested substance should not conform to social norms and the person’s developmental process. For example, children under the age of two may put the substances around them into their mouths as they explore the world.
There is no single and definitive answer to the question of why pica occurs. For example, anemia due to iron deficiency in pregnant women can be associated with pica. In other cases, the lack of essential nutrients such as iron or zinc, malnutrition, defense mechanisms developed against some psychological diseases such as obsessive disorder or schizophrenia may cause Pica. However, for this eating behavior to be diagnosed as “Pica”, the cause of the behavior must not be a physical or mental disability.
Eating non-food substitutes can cause many harms to the body. For example, poisoning or harming some body functions is one of the most dangerous consequences of pica or, providing nutrition, one of the most necessities of life, from foods that should not be eaten is a major obstacle to a healthy life. Parasites and bacteria on the edible material can cause various infections, as well as hard and difficult to digest materials can cause constipation or cause intestinal ruptures.
In order to diagnose Pica, the client must be honest in terms of the substances s/he eats. Accordingly, the doctor can determine whether there is an underlying nutrient deficiency under the peak by looking at the amount of substances such as iron or zinc with various blood and hormone tests. However, Pica can be overcome with regular monitoring of eating behaviors and appropriate treatment strategies.
If you are not sure if you have any of these symptoms, or if a relative or a close friend is experiencing these symptoms, a health professional will know how to guide you further. Book an appointment here!
Ezgi Nur Budak has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she is an intern at Health Clinic of Willingness.
Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/pica
Bhandari, S. 2019. Mental health and pica. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-pica
Holm, G. 2019. Everything you need to know about pica. Healthline. Retrieved fromhttps://www.healthline.com/health/pica#causes