Abnormal Appetite


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Medically it is called Pica but it can give householders trouble

An innocent exploration of surroundings and the environment by a two-year-old child makes him keep things in this mouth. But if an abnormal appetite for non-nutritive substances like chalk, sand and paper happens for a persistent period of time either in children of more than three years of age or even adults, the condition is termed as Pica. In other words it is an eating disorder.

Certain individuals develop a large and indiscriminate appetite for indigestible foods or non-edible foods usually considered abnormal for their age. This eating disorder appears as a sort of a compulsive craving to eat things like clay, dirt, sand, paint chips, plaster, ice, glue, hair and in some cases toothpaste and soap. Pica as it is called does not have a basis. But has been found to be common in some pregnant women and children with developmental disabilities like autism or mental retardation. Though the cause looks irrelevant, this eating disorder is also common in people who suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies. But ironically, the items they crave to ingest do not necessarily contain these deficient elements. Among malnourished people, children who are not supervised by parents are more likely to get into this habit. Inordinate dieting with tendency to keep away from food most of the time can have an implication by causing this craving for non-edible items. It could also be a reaction to stress the person is under as the oral fixation or resorting to comfort by keeping things in mouth could be accentuated and thereby such abnormal appetite develops. Probably this is also the reason why people get hooked on to craving for tobacco, zarda, gutkha etc.

The moot point is that there is every chance the ingested substances can cause a disturbance in the system. In case the child is gnawing on lead paint, there is a possibility of lead poisoning. Indigestible things like hair, cloth, paper etc. can cause indigestion and assimilative disturbances of the digestive tract. Children eating hard objects may develop a pain in the abdomen and there is a fear of even worse consequences. They can also damage their teeth by doing so. Dirt, clay and sand could also cause parasitic infestations in children.

To start with, keeping chemical and harmful substances out of reach of the child is important. Positive reinforcement by rewarding them for not eating those would help. In some cases negative reinforcement like "time out" should also be tried out. If there is no change in the craving then homoeopathic medicines should help. People with tendency to crave for acidic things, pickles or sour things are improved by Antimonium crudum. If bitter things are on the agenda, Kali bich soothes the craving. Coal, chalk, lead are some cravings which are reduced by Alumina and Psorinum. Abies can relieves the desire for coarse foods and uncooked meat. Craving of zarda, gutkha, tobacco can be reduced with the patient compliance by Ac. carbolic, Staphysagria etc. Various other things that cause craving can be moderated by medicines like Cina and Cinchona.


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