Harmful Cravings

Pickles And Ice Cream, Yummy

Nobody would deny a pregnant woman her right to food cravings. Pregnancy is that time when the proverbial "pickles and ice cream" treat is okay with everyone, and bizarre things to eat are somewhat normal. While there is no hard and fast data on why women have food cravings, the general consensus is that hormonal changes and fluctuations can make foods that were favorites before pregnancy, totally abhorrent and foods that were not that popular,  suddenly number one.

As long as a woman is eating an otherwise balanced diet and keeping her calories in line with her body's needs, cravings are relatively harmless and tolerable. However, there are some cravings that are not on any food list and some of them can be potentially harmful to a pregnant woman.

When Cravings Are Non-Food

Pica is a condition where a person craves and eats non-food substances such as dirt, laundry soap, starch, hair, matches, and ice chips among other things. The name pica comes from the Latin word for Magpie, a bird that is known to be a scavenger that will eat just about anything. Pica is usually associated with nutritional deficiencies, yet it can occur where there are no deficiencies. It strikes people all across the socioeconomic board and is not race nor ethnicity specific.

Pica And Anemia

The most frequent deficiency found in people with pica is anemia. This does not mean that all people with anemia will have pica, and conversely, it doesn't mean that people with pica are anemic. Science has spent many years trying to associate cravings with deficiencies. However, sometimes the deficiencies are caused by the cravings. That is, anemia may be a result of pica rather than a cause. Eating non-food items can actually cause anemia by displacing iron-rich foods and interfering with iron absorption.

Types Of Pica

There are different types of pica. Geophagia is eating dirt and clay. Matt Rosenberg, Geography guide, says, "Most people who eat dirt live in Central Africa and the Southern United States. While it is a cultural practice, it also fills a physiological need for nutrients." He also indicated that eating dirt may be considered a form of treatment for the pregnancy symptom of nausea.

Amylophagia is the consumption of starch and paste. Pagophagia is the eating of ice. This particular pica has been associated with iron deficiencies.

Dangerous Non-Food Substances

There are some non-food items that are particularly toxic and can cause harm to a woman or her unborn baby. Ash, chalk, antacids, paint chips, plaster, wax, and other substances can be harmful and eating clay and dirt can prove fatal in some cases. People should be informed of the potential danger of what they are eating. Such reactions as pain, constipation, bloating and/or distention of the abdomen, or change in bowel habits are all indications that things are becoming serious.

There is not a lot of information about pica. Health practitioners are concerned for pregnant women with pica since the women fear confiding in them about their cravings. Embarrassment over eating non-food substances keeps them from talking, it also increases the health risks to both the mother and the baby.

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