Pica refers to an abnormal consumption, which may be either something not eaten by a "normal" person or the excessive consumption of a single foodstuff. The name is derived from the Latin for "magpie" which is a bird that will seemingly eat almost anything.


Things consumed include:

(1) clay

(2) laundry starch

(3) ashes

(4) sand or stones

(5) coffee grounds

(6) oyster shells

(7) paper, including newspapers

(8) burnt matches

(9) cigarette butts

(10) ice

(11) paint

(12) plaster or cement

(13) magnesium carbonate

(14) a single food item, such as celery, potato chips, carrots, peanut butter, pickles, licorice, sunflower seeds, hard candies, chewing gum, pretzels, pepper, etc.


Risk factors for pica:

(1) mental retardation or organic brain syndrome

(2) neurosis, especially compulsive

(3) family disorganization

(4) poor nutrition

(5) poverty

(6) cultural habit, especially in aboriginal groups

(7) belief in the benefits of the practice (to counteract stomach complaints or diarrhea, to absorb poisons in the environment, to lose weight)

(8) craving associated with pregnancy or other condition



(1) nutritional deficiencies: There is some controversy if the clay or other material results in poor absorption of vitamins and minerals, or whether it is a manifestation of the pre-existing deficiency. If the behavior ceases after deficiency replacement, then it probably was a consequence to the deficiency.

(2) intestinal obstruction or perforation

(3) lead or other poisoning


Item Consumed



unusual food craving



clay and other "earthy" items

hypo- or hyperkalemia, poor iron absorption



iron deficiency



• Pagophagia = purposeful consumption of >= 1 standard tray of ice daily for at least 2 months.


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