There are no stats that show much earth you can consume in a year. The tolerance level of people varies greatly. While it isn’t clear yet why people eat dirt, it might have benefits.
Studies have shown that the practice (called geophagy) is most common amongst pregnant women. Why this is so in unclear. Experiments on mice however. have shown that it produces an effect similar to anti depressant drugs.
Apparently, germs have an element that turns on brain neurons. These neurons produce serotonin, which helps fight depression and mood swings. Tests have shown that some bacteria have useful elements. It has been established that these serotonin generating germs help people get into a positive mood.
This doesn’t exactly explain why geophagy exists. But even if it has yet to clarify why people eat dirt, it is a good area to conduct more research.
Mood Swings and Physiological Needs
The practice is unusual but it occurs in various parts of the world. Young children may engage in it, often out of fun or curiosity more than anything else. In other cases, there is simply this uncontrollable urge. As stated, the urge manifests among pregnant women.
However it also shows among people with frequent mood changes. Because of its ability to activate serotonin, it could be the body’s way of trying to normalize its moods. The relationship between mood swings and geophagy is not the only reason why people eat dirt.
Some people with steady moods also like to eat them. Some have suggested that is a physiological requirement. It may simply be stronger in others.
Cultural and Religious Beliefs
In the United States the practice is most prevalent in the southeastern section. It is also done in various parts of the African continent. In Africa it is indulged in by pregnant women. It is their means of getting nutrition. They usually eat clay.
The clays are sold in stores and the marketplace. These come in various shapes and sizes. They are also comprised of various minerals. Women usually fasten them by the waist and consume it piece by piece.
During pregnancy, the nutritional needs go up by as much as 15%. Part of the reason why people eat dirt is that the clays are filled with nutrients. Included are iron, magnesium and zinc. These are needed by pregnant women. As such, the body seeks them from all sources, including dirt.
Others eat them for religious or ritual purposes. Some tribes or sects perform rituals that require consuming dirt. It is their way of becoming one with the element of the earth.
While there are benefits from consuming dirt, eating inappropriate types will produce illnesses. Ash, chalk and dust to name a few have no health benefits. However there are people who consume them.
The practice of eating these unhealthy materials is termed pica. The ailments it can cause are numerous and varied. It can also be life threatening if consumed in great amounts.
With more scientific research ongoing, the reasons why people eat dirt may eventually be known. As more facts emerged, other benefits or hazards will also be uncovered.