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Eating Dirt: Good for Kids and Pregnant Women?

By Heather Turgeon |

Pica, eating dirt and kids health

A little dirt never hurt anyone

When my son and I leave the grocery store, I douse him in antibacterial lotion, especially since reading the recent finding that 72 percent of shopping carts contain fecal bacteria and other stomach-turners.

I’m similarly germ conscious when he comes home from school (all those hands wiping runny noses and grabbing the same paint brushes) or goes to eat a muffin after swinging at the playground.

But digging in the dirt, that’s a different story. Earth doesn’t phase me. This week, Cornell University researchers proposed that ingesting dirt actually has a protective effect for humans, particularly little kids and pregnant women. Here’s what they found:

Eating dirt, or “geophagy” has been a common practice throughout human history. Researcher Sera Young, reporting in a forthcoming article in The Quarterly Review of Biology says that across the globe you can find stories of humans chomping on earth — the first to document it was Hippocrates.

But no one really knew why — theories have included that it was to satisfy hunger, or to fill up on certain nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium. By looking through historical records and noting when and why people eat dirt, though, the scientists determined that the most likely reason is that certain components of earth are protective, fortifying people against pathogens, parasites, and plant toxins. One of the clues is that across the world and through history, the most likely people to eat dirt are women in the beginning of pregnancy and children — both in more vulnerable states of health.

Image: flickr

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Eating Dirt: Good for Kids and Pregnant Women?

  1. sarah says:

    yes i totally agree a little dirt won’t hurt! although babies under 1 are at risk for infant botulism which my daughter was unlucky enough to get. about 1 in 80 babies in the US a year. comes from a spore found in soil. incredibly rare but more common around farmland (where we live) because the soil is tilled a lot.

  2. Cyndiego says:

    I think you mean 80 – 100 in the US a year. So sorry about your daughter.

  3. bob says:

    Dirt: Now it’s healthy AND delicious!

  4. audrey simmons says:

    I think dirt is fine, and I think it really does build up immune systems, but on a side note, women and children who actually crave dirt and/or clay suffer from pica, which isn’t a sign that dirt is good for us, but a serious deficiency of iron and other nutrients that eating dirt and/or clay doesn’t actually satisfy. It will just get worse until the deficiency is filled by real foods.

  5. sarah says:

    haha yes! i’m sorry i did mean about 80 babies a year, not 1 in 80.. that makes no sense!

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