PICA When pregnancy cravings get unhealthy

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Pregnancy and cravings go together like bread and butter. Often times, most cravings are harmless with the exception of a slightly higher reading on the weighing scale, which is bound to happen anyway! However, there are some cravings that may set your pregnancy back a whole lot due to their non-nutritive nature. Here’s the lowdown on unhealthy pregnancy cravings and how to deal with them.

Pica – an eating disorder characterised by persistent eating of substances that have no nutritional value such as dirt or rocks – is common in pregnancy. According to experts, the entire reason behind it remains unknown. Pica is derived from the Latin word for magpie, a bird characterised by its ability to eat not just unusual things, but also just about anything.

Doctors have long speculated that it may have to do with the body demanding supply of some nutrients, mostly minerals, which it may be missing. For instance, the love of ice-cubes has been linked to iron deficiency even though ice-cubes do not contain any iron. Hunger, malnutrition and stress have also been linked to pica. Women who have access to all the right nutrients have also been known to suffer from pica hence the mystery behind its cause.

The pica cravings range from the mundane such as chalk, rocks or clay to the absurd and dangerous such as the consumption of washing powder, bleach, paint and so on. Some common pica cravings and their associated deficiencies include:

Chalk, talcum powder, ice-cubes and baking soda: These cravings are mostly associated with low iron levels. However, to establish the cause, one has to undergo a blood test. Ice-cubes are not necessarily bad but they may give your teeth a beating and exacerbate an existing cold or flu.

Charcoal and ash: Such cravings are associated with low potassium levels but a blood test would be the best way to determine the precise deficiency. While charcoal is not considered too deadly a craving (it was used as medicine for flatulence and bloating in ancient days), consuming it in large doses can lead to disruption of normal nutrient absorption. There are, however, some shops that stock charcoal that is fit for human consumption. It’s best to check with an organics shop or retailer.  Avoid your regular run-of-the-mill charcoal from your grocery vendor.

Paint, glue, detergents and washing powder: These cravings are not necessarily caused by dietary deficiencies; they have been associated with stress and psychological problems. Unfortunately, this group of craving is toxic so steer clear of it. Inhaling solvents can also lead to addiction. Consult a doctor or a specialist in case your cravings fall in this group.

Mud, clay and dirt: This group of craving is associated with deficiency of iron or trace minerals such as selenium, zinc and so on.  Your doctor will probably recommend a supplement but in the event the craving persists, try supplementing dirt with stone ground flour or charcoal powder (fit for human consumption) but in moderation. You can also counter it with a better balanced diet.

Risks associated with pica…

To begin with, the body does not need non-nutritional substances and herein lies the harmful nature of pica. Some substances, however, may be toxic or have parasitic ingredients such as bleach, paint or solvents. Others, such as charcoal, can cause problems with nutrient absorption. This in turn only propagates the same or an entirely new deficiency, which could prove detrimental to the pregnancy.

Managing pica…

While pica has been known to persist even with medical interventions (and even in the post-natal stage), keep your doctor, obstetrician or gynaecologist in the know for better management interventions. Review your pre and post-natal charts with every visit to the doctor so as to be up to speed in the event something is amiss.

Monitor your diet and ensure that it is as balanced as possible. Additionally, consider supplementing the unhealthy cravings with alternative items, as sometimes it is a question of texture, colour or smell, as opposed to the taste of that particular substance or a nutritional deficiency. Try to maintain as minimal stress levels as possible and talk to a counsellor or a therapist if and when necessary.

Published March 2017…

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