Pica is a medical disorder characterized by an appetite for largely non-nutritive substances (e.g., coal, soil, feces, chalk, paper, etc.) or an abnormal appetite for some things that may be considered foods, such as food ingredients (e.g., flour, raw potato, starch, ice cubes). In order for these actions to be considered pica, they must persist for more than one month, at an age where eating such objects is considered developmentally inappropriate. The condition’s name comes from the Latin word for the magpie, a bird which is reputed to eat almost anything. Pica is seen in all ages, particularly in pregnant women and small children, especially among children who are developmentally disabled, where it is the most common eating disorder.
Pica in children, while common, can be dangerous. Children eating painted plaster containing lead may suffer brain damage from lead poisoning. There is a similar risk from eating dirt near roads that existed prior to the phaseout of tetra-ethyl lead in gasoline or prior to the cessation of the use of contaminated oil (either used, or containing toxic PCBs or dioxin) to settle dust. In addition to poisoning, there is also a much greater risk of gastro-intestinal obstruction or tearing in the stomach. This is also true in animals. Another risk of dirt eating is the possible ingestion of animal feces and the accompanying parasites.
Causes of Pica
The scant research that has been done on the root causes of pica suggests that the majority of those afflicted tend to suffer some biochemical deficiency and more often iron deficiency. The association between pica and iron deficiency anemia is so strong that most patients with iron deficiency will admit to some form of pica. Often the substance eaten by those with the disorder does not contain the mineral of deficiency. If a mineral deficiency is not identified as the cause of pica, it often leads to a diagnosis as a mental disorder.
Pica may also be a symptom of iron deficiency anemia secondary to hookworm infection. Symptoms may also include a pinkish hue to the skin, particularly around the mouth.
Unlike in humans, in dogs or cats, pica may be a sign of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, especially when it involves eating substances such as tile grout, concrete dust, and sand. Dogs exhibiting this form of pica should be tested for anemia with a CBC or at least hematocrit levels. 
Treatment of Pica
Treatment emphasizes psychosocial, environmental, and family guidance approaches. Treatment options include: discrimination training between edible and nonedible items, self-protection devices that prohibit placement of objects in the mouth, sensory reinforcement involving screening (covering eyes briefly), contingent aversive oral taste (lemon), contingent aversive smell sensation (ammonia), contingent aversive physical sensation (water mist), brief physical restraint, and overcorrection (correct the environment, or practice appropriate or alternative responses).
This involves associating negative consequences with eating non-food items and good consequences with normal behavior. Medications may be helpful in reducing the abnormal eating behavior if pica occurs in the course of a developmental disorder, such as mental retardation or pervasive developmental disorder. These conditions may be associated with severe behavioral disturbances, including pica. These medications enhance dopaminergic functioning, which is believed to be associated with the occurrence of pica.
- Amylophagia (consumption of starch)
- Coprophagia (consumption of excrement)
- Geophagy (consumption of soil, clay, or chalk)
- Consumption of dust or sand has been reported among iron deficient patients.
- Vampirism (ingestion of blood)
- Hyalophagia (consumption of glass)
- Pagophagia (pathological consumption of ice)
- Self-cannibalism (rare condition where body parts may be consumed; see also Lesch-Nyhan syndrome)
- Trichophagia (consumption of hair or wool)
- Urophagia (consumption of urine)
- Xylophagia (consumption of wood)
- Michel Lotito has made a career in entertainment of eating chopped “inedibles” like a Cessna 150 small airplane.
- A patient suffering from Pica was featured in the season four premiere of Grey’s Anatomy.
- Jimmy Kimmel has suggested several times in his stand up that G. Gordon Liddy suffers from pica and, as such, may have been Deep Throat.
- In the House episode “Lines in the Sand,” a severely autistic boy with pica is diagnosed with raccoon roundworms that he acquired from eating the sand in his sandbox.
- In the book One Hundred Years of Solitude, Rebeca eats earth and whitewash.
- In Chapter 26 of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the pregnant and malnourished Rose of Sharon is caught eating “a piece of slack lime” and her mother admits to eating coal when she was pregnant.(Read at Archive.org)
- Kristen Bell had unofficially declared on the Late Show with David Letterman her black lab suffers from Pica, having eaten, for example, shards of glass, bottles and so on and so forth.
Homeopathy Treatment for Pica
Keywords: homeopathy, homeopathic, treatment, cure, remedy, remedies, medicine
Homeopathy treats the person as a whole. It means that homeopathic treatment focuses on the patient as a person, as well as his pathological condition. The homeopathic medicines are selected after a full individualizing examination and case-analysis, which includes the medical history of the patient, physical and mental constitution, family history, presenting symptoms, underlying pathology, possible causative factors etc. A miasmatic tendency (predisposition/susceptibility) is also often taken into account for the treatment of chronic conditions. A homeopathy doctor tries to treat more than just the presenting symptoms. The focus is usually on what caused the disease condition? Why ‘this patient’ is sick ‘this way’. The disease diagnosis is important but in homeopathy, the cause of disease is not just probed to the level of bacteria and viruses. Other factors like mental, emotional and physical stress that could predispose a person to illness are also looked for. No a days, even modern medicine also considers a large number of diseases as psychosomatic. The correct homeopathy remedy tries to correct this disease predisposition. The focus is not on curing the disease but to cure the person who is sick, to restore the health. If a disease pathology is not very advanced, homeopathy remedies do give a hope for cure but even in incurable cases, the quality of life can be greatly improved with homeopathic medicines.
The homeopathic remedies (medicines) given below indicate the therapeutic affinity but this is not a complete and definite guide to the homeopathy treatment of this condition. The symptoms listed against each homeopathic remedy may not be directly related to this disease because in homeopathy general symptoms and constitutional indications are also taken into account for selecting a remedy. To study any of the following remedies in more detail, please visit the Materia Medica section at Hpathy.
None of these medicines should be taken without professional advice and guidance.
Homeopathy Remedies for Pica :
Alum., alumn., calc., calc-p., chel., cic., con., ferr., hep., hyos., ign., nat-m., nit-ac., nux-v., oci., psor., sil., sulph., tarent.
- ^ emedince.com article on “Eating Disorder: Pica”
- ^ Plunkett, Signe J. (2000). Emergency Procedures for the Small Animal Veterinarian. Elsevier Health Sciences, 11. ISBN 0702024872.
- ^ Feldman, Bernard F.; Joseph G. Zinkl, Nemi Chand Jain, Oscar William Schalm (2000). Schalm’s Veterinary Hematology. Blackwell Publishing, 506. ISBN 0683306928.