Geophagia: Is It Abnormal or Adaptive?

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Geophagia denotes the habit of deliberately ingesting earth, soil or clay. Based on different viewpoints geophagia has been regarded as a psychiatric disease, a culturally sanctioned practice or a sequel to poverty and famine. The standard reference guide for psychiatrists—the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)—classifies geophagia as a form of pica –the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its large and indiscriminate appetite. In other terms, pica is known as the persistent eating of non-nutritive substances. In order to reach a conclusion whether geophagia is abnormal or adaptive, evolutionary approaches were used to determine how common this behavior is in animals and across human societies. If many different species and cultures demonstrate the same behavior, then it is fair to conclude that geophagia must be beneficial in some way. Studies of animals and human cultures have proven that geophagia is in fact not abnormal; hence it must be adaptive. Investigators have observed geophagia in more than 200 animal species, including parrots, deer, elephants, bats, rabbits, baboons, gorillas and chimpanzees. Furthermore, geophagia has been presented in humans, with records dating to at least the time of Greek physician Hippocrates (460 B.C.). The Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians used clay for medical purposes: they plastered wounds with mud and ate dirt to treat various sicknesses, particularly of the gut. It is
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