Geophagy is the practice of eating earthy or soil-like substances such as clay, and chalk, in order to obtain essential nutrients such as sulfur and phosphorus from the soil. It is closely related to pica, a classified eating disorder in the DSM-IV characterized by abnormal cravings for nonfood items.
The many possible health benefits of geophagy remain under study and are much debated. Many scientists believe that it is only harmful, while others argue that there may be adaptive benefits to the practice, since humans and animal alike have engaged in it for thousands of years.
Geophagy is most often seen in rural or preindustrial societies among children and pregnant women. However, it is practiced by members of all races, social classes, ages, and sexes. In other parts of the world the practice is less stigmatized, and geophagy is not studied as a pathology but rather as an "adaptive behavior" that supplements the diet with essential nutrients or treats a disorder such as diarrhea.
In some parts of the world, geophagia is a culturally sanctioned practice. In many parts of the developing world, earth intended for consumption is available for purchase.
In parts of Africa, rural United States, and villages in India clay consumption may be correlated with pregnancy as women eat clay to eliminate nausea, possibly because the clay coats the gastrointestinal tract and absorbs dangerous toxins. The clay may also provide critical calcium for fetal development (Vemeer).
Bentonite clay is available worldwide as a digestive aid; kaolin is also widely used as a digestive aid and as the base for some medicines. Attapulgite, a substance found in clay in the Southern United States, is an active ingredient in many anti-diarrheal medicines.
Geophagy was also practiced by Native Americans in California and Peru who would eat earth with acorns and potatoes to neutralize potentially harmful alkaloids. Clay was used in the production of acorn bread in California and Sardinia, Italy.
Yes and no.
I do think that sometimes you crave what you need. But other times, I wonder why my body thinks it needs Cheese Curlz.