5 Facts About Pica That Everyone Should Know

The conversation around eating disorders is usually limited to bulimia or anorexia. While those are certainly worth talking about, there are more eating disorders than just those two. Pica is an eating disorder that seems odd and almost fake to many people, but it’s a serious disorder. Pica is the persistent craving and compulsive eating of nonfood substances.


People with Pica find themselves eating things such as dirt, chalk, or even more dangerous objects that can lead to serious consequences. It’s not a well-known disorder, so here are a few facts everyone should know about it.


1. It’s Been Around Since Ancient Times

That’s right, this puzzling phenomenon known as Pica has been described since ancient times. It’s been observed throughout history all over the world, in both primitive and modernized cultures.


2. Other Animals Experience It

Shockingly, Pica doesn’t only affect humans. It’s been observed in other animals such as chimpanzees. Pica has also been observed in cats and dogs, but in these cases, it can be a sign of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. Scientists still don’t know what cases pica in animals, as there’s no sufficient evidence to prove any current theories.


3. There Are Multiple Subtypes

Pica is defined as the consumption of substances that don’t have significant nutritional value. Psychiatrists categorize pica patients into different subtypes based on what they most commonly like to eat. Some of the subtypes include:

  • Acuphagia (sharp objects)
  • Amylophagia(starch)
  • Cautopyreiophagia (burnt matches)
  • Coniophagia (dust)
  • Coprophagia(feces)
  • Emetophagia (vomit)
  • Geomelophagia(raw potatoes)
  • Geophagia(dirt, soil, clay)
  • Hyalophagia (glass)
  • Lithophagia (stones)
  • Mucophagia(mucus)
  • Pagophagia(ice)
  • Plumbophagia (lead)
  • Trichophagia(hair, wool, and other fibers)
  • Urophagia(urine)
  • Hematophagia(Vampirism) (blood)
  • Xylophagia (wood, or derivates of wood such as paper)


4. Certain Conditions Have A Higher Rate of Pica

Pica can affect anyone from any background. However, there are some conditions that have a higher rate of this eating disorder. Many pregnant women have pica tendencies, with chalk being a common craving. People with developmental delays or autism also have pica at higher rates. Poor nutrition can lead to pica as well, and in this case, they tend to crave things such as ice or starch. Young children tend to have pica too, but this tends to subside after the child turns two or three.


5. Pica Isn’t Limited To Deficiency or Disorder

While most cases of Pica are caused by a nutritional deficiency or a specific disorder, there are cases of cultural pica. Certain cultures and religions involve eating non-nutritional substances. For example, in parts of Africa the ingestion of kaolin, a type of white clay, is common. This practice is due to the clay having health benefits such as absorbing toxins.



Pica is a fascination disorder, but it can also be dangerous. While some substances pica patients consume like dirt, chalk, and ice don’t pose any health risks, others do. Pica can be difficult to treat but it is possible. If you have any questions or concerns about Pica or want to start getting help, feel free to contact us.


Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez