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The potential impact of geophagia on the bioavailability of iron, zinc and calcium in human nutrition

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Geophagia, the deliberate ingestion of soil, is a complex eating behaviour with obscure aetiology and numerous health/medical problems. It is conventionally assumed that geophagia may help supplement mineral nutrients in individuals with limited intake of trace elements such as Fe and Zn. This view, however, has largely been based on the bulk nutrient composition of geophagic materials and the assumption that these nutrients are potentially available for absorption in the body. We have tested this assumption by equilibrating five geophagic materials collected from Uganda, Tanzania, Turkey and India with mineral nutrient concentrations and conditions similar to the gastrointestinal tract. The results showed that all five geophagic materials, regardless of their composition, sorbed large amounts of Fe and Zn across a range of dietary intake scenarios, even under acidic conditions (pH 2) similar to the stomach. However, significant amounts of Ca desorption were observed from calcareous soil samples. The findings show that while calcareous geophagic materials may supplement Ca, geophagia can potentially cause Fe- and Zn-deficiency. This is consistent with mineral nutrient deficiency problems observed in clinical nutrition studies conducted amongst geophagic populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-319
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Geochemistry and Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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