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Eating soil, a pregnancy craving that can kill . . .

13 Apr 2019 at 13:12hrs | Views
The smell of soil after light rains is divine. I like to think of it as the smell of nature, pure and fresh. Many women experience iron deficiency during pregnancy and subsequently develop a craving for soil and as a result, soil is big business for some people. The practice of eating soil is called geophagy and spans across decades, if not centuries.

Demand is up among women who crave this peculiar cuisine and the number of vendors who sell it in Bulawayo is rapidly increasing. Mpilo Hospital Clinical Director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said eating soil is a very dangerous practice for women which must be stopped. He said it is a sign that someone is anaemic.

"People who eat soil are usually doing it because they are anaemic. They should take iron supplements instead. The thing is just so acceptable in our society but it can have grave consequences and eventually can lead to death," said Dr Ngwenya.

"Excessive consumption of soil can lead to a blockage of the intestines, which would need surgery as the soil would have blocked food from passing. People who consume a lot of soil may also face acute challenges in bowel movements. People who eat soil are just dicing with death.

One may not feel the consequences immediately but in the long run the results are dire," said Dr Ngwenya. Vendors who sell soil say it gives them better profits than selling fresh produce. Mr Khumbulani Moyo who has been making a living out of selling soil says he has managed to feed his family for eight years out of the soil business.

"I sell a sachet for 40 cents and in a day I get a minimum of 50 bond. The only thing that costs me is the packaging. It gives me money although a lot of people do not take me seriously.

"It is a family business. The good thing with this business is that there is a very reliable client base because it is sort of addictive. People crave this thing so those that eat it buy almost on a daily basis. Women come all the way from eastern suburbs, from all classes, to these places that some may call dingy. It is not only women from high density suburbs that eat soil," said Mr Moyo.

"Some women buy up to five packets each day meaning that they consume all those packets on a single day. I tell them not to eat too much of it, but as long as the money is coming in, I am happy. It is better than craving for expensive and unhealthy foods like fried chips and chicken among others.

"I used to see my wife packaging soil when she started this business and I thought it was a waste of time. I was against this business as I thought people would think she is mad. She never made much when she started and I ridiculed her a lot but after a few weeks her client base expanded and she learnt how to package the soil nicely and knew which types of soil sold better. "She kept all the money in one month and end of month she gave me $430 just from selling soil. I could not believe it. The rest is history. I joined her, I now have my own soil vending store away from hers and the money is coming in. I have since taken over the responsibility of digging the soil from the ground."

He said the popular soils are the one from Bellevue, another type from Magwegwe suburb near the city council water works and there is also a special type that is clay like from Harare.

"It is the top seller (Harare type), white in colour and is more expensive. I do not really eat the soil but I do taste it here and there to convince my customers and to understand the different tastes," he said.

"Most people buy it at between 5 and 6 PM when knocking off from work. They said it is a good pass time. It is not only pregnant women that buy it. Even non expectant mothers love to eat soil."

A friend of mine always has a packet of soil in her bag, I have asked her if she knows  that her habit is dangerous and she asked me to show her a grave of a person who was killed by geophagia. That was the end of the conversation. Many women who eat dirt say they don't know why they do it, but note that they have an irrepressible craving for it. Soil consumption is associated with a condition known as pica, doctors say, which causes people, to crave nonfood items. Often, the condition is associated with a nutritional deficiency.

The mineral content in clay soils varies from one region to another and it may contain the following minerals, calcium, iron, magnesium and copper. These are very critical minerals during pregnancy although they are also very important and essential for the human diet.

There are some soils that are contaminated by human waste or any kind of industrial chemicals. Pregnant women often eat soil as it soothes the morning sickness. The craving results from low iron levels in the body or anaemia, and is a condition that can be treated. While eating soil is commonly viewed as a harmless practice, doctors warn that women who do this risked ingesting material that could be harmful.

Doctors say many women develop iron deficiencies during pregnancy and start eating soil as a result. They could, however, develop a worm infestation or other parasitic and bacterial infections by eating dirt. Women who eat soil should tell their doctors about their cravings, so a proper check can be done to ascertain the cause. Supplements such as iron, magnesium or zinc tablets can then be prescribed.

Women with soil cravings can eat a lot of spinach,  beetroot and liver because these foods have a high iron content. Soil is a foreign material carrying a lot of dirt and harmful agents such as worms, animal faeces and fungi. The appetite for eating soil usually ends up reaching the level of addiction. Some women cannot just go about their day without landing their hands on a daily fix, a packet of soil. It is worrying.

According to two researchers from the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, UK, the tradition of soil consumption is still very much alive in the African tropics, India, African American communities in America, Jamaica and it has also been reported in Saudi Arabia. Despite the advent of modern religions and the end of the slave trade, soil eating is not uncommon, though mostly confined to the poorer sections of society.

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Source - chronicle
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