Geophagia: the history of earth-eating
By Alexander Woywodt and Akos Kiss
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Vol.95:3 (2002)
Introduction: Geophagia is defined as deliberate consumption of earth, soil, or clay. From different viewpoints it has been regarded as a psychiatric disease, a culturally sanctioned practice or a sequel to poverty and famine. Prompted by a remarkable case in our own practice2 we became increasingly aware of geophagia in contemporary urban South Africa. In view of the high prevalence of geophagia there and in many other regions of the world, we hypothesized that ancient medical texts would also contain reports of the disorder. To our surprise, geophagia was indeed reported by many authors ranging from Roman physicians to 18th century explorers. Here we present, together with a brief description of the disorder, some of the most remarkable examples.