Geophagia is strongly associated with iron deficiency anemia, and in the majority of cases the unusual eating behavior disappears upon iron supplementation.
Several hypotheses exist about why iron deficiency causes pica, including physiological mechanisms; however, there is no single agreed upon explanation. Pica has been linked to factors of age, gender, religion, culture, nutritional deficiency, stress, and mental development. When associated with iron deficiency, pica is believed to be a symptom of the deficiency rather than its cause. This leads researchers to understand more clearly the link of these cravings to pregnant women where it is common for them to have low amounts of Iron in their blood.
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During pregnancy, the body produces more blood to support the growth of the baby. When the body doesn’t have enough iron to produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body) the blood cannot carry enough oxygen to tissues throughout the body. If the body is not getting enough iron, your body may not be able to produce the amount of red blood cells it needs to make this additional blood. Eating non-food substances is potentially harmful to both the mother and her baby. Pica cravings are a concern because non-food items may contain toxins or parasites. Mothers who have developed geophagia are at the risk of the soil or clay they consume of being contaminated by animal or human feces, with tetanus being a further risk as well as lead poisoning.
This would be then ingested and delivered to the baby through the umbilical cord. A study conducted on the ingestion of Kaolin ( a clay mineral) in the maternal blood of a female rats to study the effects of kaolin in the maternal blood and the embryonic development. One group of mothers were given a 20% kaolin diet and the other group a 20% iron supplemented kaolin diet during the gestation period. The mothers fed the kaolin diet exhibited significant reduction in hemoglobin and red blood cell levels, this indicated maternal anemia. There was also a significant reduction in the birth weight of the pups born to kaolin fed rats. The kaolin fed rats receiving an iron supplement maintained hemoglobin, red blood cell levels, and pup weight within the normal range.
This study gives evidence to the fact that mothers who practice geophagia affect the development of their unborn child. Scientist believe that people who have a family history of pica are statistically more likely to develop pica themselves. This is another risk the mother imposes on her child if she continues to practice geophagia after pregnancy.