EATING COMMON DISODER
By: Pamela Sibiya
Soil, plants, dirt and hair may seem like strange ingredients for a meal but several South Africans are addicted to eating the substances.
The website, Eating Disorders South Africa reveals that PICA is an eating disorder which fuels the craving of non-nutritious substances such as soil, paint and hair. Possible factors leading to the disorder include deficiencies of iron and calcium, though no biological abnormalities are found.
A common local substance addiction also includes the eating of white dirt, known as ‘umcako’.
White dirt is a mineral lime that is mined in Ndwedwe, north of Durban. According to the Markets of Warwick website, it is used by some people as sunscreen, paint and for pottery.
The craving and eating of the substance is common among pregnant females and it is believed to be cultural influenced.
Some of those cultural beliefs associated with eating “white dirt” is that it controls diarrhoea, removes toxins and provides relief from nausea.
A “white dirt” addict Mbali Mgenge said that she has been eating the line for the past twelve years and does not think she can stop although she is aware of its dangers.
“I’ve been eating it since I was a child. I can’t eat food without eating it first and I don’t see myself stopping,” she said.
Mgenge said that she eats the substance daily, as she buys about two packets a day, at a cost of R1 each, from street vendors.
The excessive eating of the substance can lead to medical emergencies and be fatal.
Mgenge said that she visited a clinic after experiencing pains in her lower abdomen. The nurses found out that she had consumed soil that contained traces of cement, which she ate when she could not find white dirt.
“They said I had stones from the soil I ate. I usually feel something moving in my stomach which makes it painful when I relieve myself,” she explained.
Mgenge also said the nurses warned her that excessive eating of the substance can lead to medical emergencies and be fatal.
A former addict, Nomfundo Papane said she started eating the substance during her pregnancy but after giving birth, the addiction stopped.
“It’s like a drug addiction. When the craving starts, you wouldn’t be able to do anything until it had been satisfied,” said Papane.
A Durban University of Technology resident nurse, Sister Gladys Myeza, said: “excessive eating of dirt could lead to severe constipation which could lead to spasms that can be fatal”.
Myeza also said that some of the beliefs that led to people eating the dirt were myths.
“The most common of these myths is that white dirt lessens the pain when women are in labour. According to the health department we just consider it as ordinary sand which harbours lot of germs,” said Myeza.