WHILE eating soil has become an addiction for many African women in KwaZulu Natal, and other provinces around South Africa – it is a health issue triggered by iron and mineral deficiencies and can be treated.
As women develop a craving for eating soil, doctors have warned that eating dirt can be dangerous, the habit is a result of low iron and it is a condition that can be treated.
While eating soil has become commonly viewed as a harmless practise, KZN general practitioner Dr Lungi Masuku warned that it was a symptom of anaemia – an iron shortage that needed to be treated, but women who did this risked ingesting material that could be harmful.
She said many women developed iron deficiencies during pregnancy and would start eating soil as a result. However they could, she said, develop a worm infestation or other parasitic and bacterial infections by eating dirt.
She said women who ate soil should tell their doctors about their cravings so a proper check could be done ascertain the cause, and so that the necessary supplements such as iron, magnesium or zinc tablets could be prescribed.
She also suggested that women with soil cravings eat a lot of beetroot and liver because these foods carried a high iron content.
“Soil is a foreign material carrying lot of dirt and harmful agents such as worms, animal faeces and fungi. There are various problems that ingesting soil can cause the human body by disturbing bowel movements or even causing a bowel obstruction. Women need to be told that what they eat can present a danger,” said Dr Masuku.
Health-e spoke to several women about their soil eating habits. Some said they started eating soil in their teenage years, while others said they started only after they fell pregnant.
Buhle Mkhize (33) of KwaNyuswa, west of Durban, said she started eating soil five years ago when she was pregnant with her second son.
“I would see a lot of pregnant women coming out of clinic, taking packets of soil from their hand bags and eating it. When I asked them why they were eating dirt they, they told me it soothed their morning sickness, boosted their appetite and relieved stress. These were worries for me at the time, as I didn’t have much appetite. So I started joining them and I saw my stress easing and my energy coming back,” explaining Mkhize.
She said eating soil had become an addiction for her and now, five years on, she sees nothing wrong with what she is doing and has no intention of trying to break the habit.
She said she believed that as long as her ordinary diet remained healthy, she exercised regularly and drank lots of water to flush the dirt from her system she believed she was not doing any harm.
Sizwe Mshengu (25) is also a soil addict.
“Honestly, I don’t want to continue eating soil anymore but it is not easy to just stop. I even told my mom and she tried to help me by buying me some sweets, but that did not work. I didn’t start eating soil while I was pregnant like most of the other women I have seen. I started after seeing my friends doing it when I was 15 years,” she said, explaining how she developed the habit 10 years ago.
“Now I cannot even sleep without it. Sometimes in the night I wake with the cravings. I really need help, even at 12 midnight craving wakes me up, I really need help,” Mshengu said.
Ayanda Dlamini (28) of Botha’s Hill said she would sometimes travel six or seven kilometres from home to dig up bags of soil to eat because the sand in her neighbourhood tasted bad.
“I do agree that I am an addict, because I started eating soil when I was 18 years after seeing my sister do it. It been 10 years now and I have been admitted in hospital with gastritis more than three times. I often struggle when I go to the toilet and feel like I cannot continue to life like this. If there was a rehab centre for people who eat soil, I would be the first one to attend it,” Dlamini said, explaining how extreme her addiction is.
Dr Masuku said more doctors should question their patients on possible soil eating habits, so they could be diagnosed and treated.
She said the media also had a role to play by informing communities of the dangers of eating soil, and explaining the need for soil addicts to seek treatment for the iron and mineral deficiencies that are the cause of their habit. – Health-e News.