The potential impact of soil ingestion on human mineral nutrition

Hooda, P.S., Henry, C.J.K, Seyoum, T.A., Armstrong, L.D.M. and Fowler, M.B. (2004) The potential impact of soil ingestion on human mineral nutrition. Science of the Total Environment, 333(1-3), pp. 75-87. ISSN (print) 0048-9697


Geophagia, the intentional and repeated ingestion of soil material, is a complex eating behaviour with incomprehensible aetiology. It is generally assumed that geophagia may help supplement mineral nutrients and thus should not be dissuaded, particularly in subsistence communities. This is largely based on the assumption that a large proportion of mineral nutrients in geophagic materials is potentially available for absorption in the body. We tested this hypothesis on five soils collected from geophagia-prevalent communities by using an in vitro soil ingestion simulation test that is broadly similar to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The results show that, despite the soils being rich in mineral nutrients, soil ingestion, inadvertent or through geophagia can potentially reduce the absorption of already bioavailable nutrients, particularly micronutrients such as Fe, Cu and Zn. These in vitro findings, while disagreeing with the commonly held view of geophagia as a source of nutrient supplementation, are consistent with micronutrient deficiency problems observed in clinical nutrition studies conducted amongst geophagic populations. The work also showed that, in some cases, the ingested soils may become a source of Ca, Mg and Mn, although it is not clear why other similar soils should not release any of these mineral nutrients.

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