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Table of Contents
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 57-58

Geophagy is a worldwide health hazard for pregnant women: A view

1 Office of Physical Education, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh
2 Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India

Date of Submission10-Feb-2022
Date of Decision15-Mar-2022
Date of Acceptance13-Apr-2022
Date of Web Publication27-Jul-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Anup De
Former Research Scholar, Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/rcm.rcm_8_22

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How to cite this article:
Islam MS, De A. Geophagy is a worldwide health hazard for pregnant women: A view. Res Cardiovasc Med 2022;11:57-8

How to cite this URL:
Islam MS, De A. Geophagy is a worldwide health hazard for pregnant women: A view. Res Cardiovasc Med [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 6];11:57-8. Available from: https://www.rcvmonline.com/text.asp?2022/11/2/57/352502

Geophagia or geophagy is the unusual activity of purposely consuming earth or soil-like things such as clay, chalk, or termite mounds to supplement a deficient or mineral-deficient diet or as part of a cultural tradition among individuals.[1],[2] Although in modern society, the habit of intentionally ingesting earth soil is not significantly practiced. Indeed, this practice was noted by several ancient writers and is nearly common in tribal and traditional rural societies worldwide. Altogether, the activity is widespread in some human communities and is easily accessible in few places if one has sufficient knowledge of the subject.[3] On the other hand, picas, an eating condition in which people desire and eat nonfood items, commonly consume dirt. Some anemic persons, as well as some pregnant women around the world, ingest soil.[4]

According to previous studies, a very few pregnant women still have a significant craving for soil, probably due to the possible protection soil offers against toxins and parasites.[5] Interestingly, some people believe that consuming earth substances is a cultural tradition that has some benefits.[5] Some communities believe that it can aid stomach problems, make softer skin or alter skin tone, provide protection during pregnancy, and prevent or treat illness by absorbing toxins.[6] Geophagia is a condition that affects many pregnant women, especially in Africa. Geophagia is justified for various reasons, including cultural, medical, and religious ones, making it a socially acceptable practice despite the health dangers associated.[7] In Bangladesh's tea-growing Sylhet district rural area, an increasing number of pregnant women are eating burned earth locally called shikor mati [Figure 1], following a practice intended to enhance their appetite, which, in turn, will improve their health and that of their unborn child. People believe that soil which has a calming effect is used as a medication and could be used to treat ulcers, diarrhea, and menstruation pain when taken orally, rectally.[7]
Figure 1: A sample of clay locally called shikor mati obtained from vendor in urban Sylhet, Bangladesh

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The cause behind geophasia is that pregnant women seek the flavor and texture of dirt, and in ancient times, they preferred red clay dirt.[8] Some people feel that eating dirt is helpful for a baby; however, when the soil contains toxins or parasites, it can be hazardous. Not long ago, Shamsunnahar Hena, a gynecologist in a Bangladeshi hospital, was taken aback when one of her pregnant patients admitted to eating half a kilogram of soil every day since conception. However, doctors warn that the soil-eating habit is harmful to both the mother and her child.[9] In Bangladesh's Sylhet, very few people still consume earth soil, particularly those who are pregnant women and practice geophagy or earth-eating. Drinking contaminated groundwater has already exposed a huge percentage of Bangladesh's population to high levels of arsenic (As) and other harmful substances.[10] A previous study found consumption of geophagic materials at large doses regularly could be harmful, especially during pregnancy.[11] Scientist found 75% iron deficiency due to geophagia which makes it a serious health hazard.[5] Basically, females are more prone to iron deficiency due to their monthly menstruation cycle, which is the most common cause of anemia and is classified as hypochromic microcytic anemia.[5] Consumption clay cannot absorb iron as well. Clay can also prevent potassium and zinc absorption in the body. This could also result in zinc insufficiency.[12],[13] Without a doubt, eating soil can be hazardous because this may contain metals, human waste, parasites, and other dangerous substances. Likewise, potential associations of maternal geophagic activities with adverse birth outcomes include low birth weight, neural tube defects, premature birth, and elevated prenatal mortality detected due to heavy metal toxicity and maternal nutrition.[14] Therefore, this practice certainly affects the new generation. Some researchers found that the practice of geophagia during pregnancy is also connected with high serum levels of heavy metals.[15] Finally, geophagia may influence pregnant women to gestational diabetes, electrolytes imbalance, and reduced intestinal enzymes behavior.[16] As a consequence, earth dirt-eating should be avoided, and people should be aware of the risks, especially for pregnant women.

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  References Top

Fack V, Shanee S, Vercauteren Drubbel R, Vercauteren M, Meunier H. Geophagy in the yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Lagothrix flavicauda) at La Esperanza, Peru: Site characterization and soil composition. Primates 2020;61:507-18.  Back to cited text no. 1
Ziegler JL. Geophagy: A vestige of palaeonutrition? Trop Med Int Health 1997;2:609-11.  Back to cited text no. 2
Abrahams PW. Geophagy and the involuntary ingestion of soil. In: Selinus O, editor. Essentials of Medical Geology. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands; 2013. p. 433-54.  Back to cited text no. 3
Ghorbani H. Geophagia, a Soil – Environmental Related Disease. International Meeting on Soil Fertility Land Management and Agroclimatology, Turkey; 2008. p. 957-67.  Back to cited text no. 4
Raphuthing MV. Association between Geophagia and Haematological Parameters of Iron Deficiency Anaemia amongst Geophagic Qwa-Qwa Women [Thesis]. Bloemfontein: Central University of Technology, Free State; 2015. Available from: http://ir.cut.ac.za/handle/11462/239. [Last accessed on 2022 Apr 10].  Back to cited text no. 5
Raypole C. Eating Dirt: Why People Do It, Dangers, and Purported Benefits. Healthline; 2019. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/eating-dirt. [Last accessed on 2022 Apr 10].  Back to cited text no. 6
Macheka LR, Olowoyo JO, Matsela L, Khine AA. Prevalence of geophagia and its contributing factors among pregnant women at Dr. George Mukhari Academic Hospital, Pretoria. Afr Health Sci 2016;16:972-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
Woywodt A, Kiss A. Geophagia: The history of earth-eating. J R Soc Med 2002;95:143-6.  Back to cited text no. 8
Majumder A. Doctors Worried Over Bangladeshi Soil-Eating. Reuters Life; 2008. Available from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bangladesh-soil-idINDHA16397020080331. [Last accessed on 2022 Apr 10].  Back to cited text no. 9
Al-Rmalli SW, Jenkins RO, Watts MJ, Haris PI. Risk of human exposure to arsenic and other toxic elements from geophagy: Trace element analysis of baked clay using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Environ Health 2010;9:79.  Back to cited text no. 10
Kutalek R, Wewalka G, Gundacker C, Auer H, Wilson J, Haluza D, et al. Geophagy and potential health implications: Geohelminths, microbes and heavy metals. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg 2010;104:787-95.  Back to cited text no. 11
Halsted JA. Geophagia in man: Its nature and nutritional effects. Am J Clin Nutr 1968;21:1384-93.  Back to cited text no. 12
Fawcett EJ, Fawcett JM, Mazmanian D. A meta-analysis of the worldwide prevalence of pica during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 2016;133:277-83.  Back to cited text no. 13
Shih YH, Chen HY, Christensen K, Handler A, Turyk ME, Argos M. Prenatal exposure to multiple metals and birth outcomes: An observational study within the National Children's Study cohort. Environ Int 2021;147:106373.  Back to cited text no. 14
Mashao U, Ekosse GI, Odiyo J, Bukalo N. Geophagic practice in Mashau Village, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Heliyon 2021;7:e06497.  Back to cited text no. 15
Zeigbo TO, Akah PA, Ofokansi MN. Kaolin consumption affects serum electrolytes, glucose and amylase levels of pregnant women. J Biosci Med 2020;8:160-8.  Back to cited text no. 16


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