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Weirdest Things People Eat - Why People Swallow Coins – and Pica Disorder

Updated on March 27, 2011

Swallow Coins

A guy in France swallows 350 coins with a value of 4,000 francs over a period of 10 years. What happens to the man is that he gets a swollen stomach and upon surgery the doctors find 5 kilogrammes of assorted coins. This guy had formed a habit of swallowing coins whenever he would come across coins. The swallowing of coins was not accidental in this case like it is in children; it was intentional. What would make this 62 years old man swallow coins. Could it be a psychiatric illness?

Pica Disorder

This man was suffering from a condition called Pica. Pica is a medical disorder which is characterized by one having a craving for substances that have no nutritive value such as coins, metals, soil, charcoal, paper, gum, ash, soap, etc. This craving may extend to uncooked edible food products such as raw meat, flour, rice and even salt.

Stomach Contents of a Person with Pica. Found In the Stomach of a Patient Suffering From Pica. Image Credit: Wikipedia
Stomach Contents of a Person with Pica. Found In the Stomach of a Patient Suffering From Pica. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Causes of Pica

Pica disorder may be caused by any of the following:

  1. Mental health conditions – conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  2. Mineral deficiency in the body such as iron, calcium, etc.
  3. Cultural practices and beliefs. Some pregnant women in Africa believe that eating stony red soil will provide iron and magnesium.

Woman Eats Her Hair

In New England, a young woman had formed a habit of swallowing her own hair until she developed pain in her stomach and a significant loss of weight. Upon taking x-ray, doctors found a huge hairball which was taking most of her stomach. The woman had to undergo surgery to remove the hairball. The operation was successful. The woman had then to be treated by a psychiatrist for several months to cure the habit.

Young Girl Swallows 10 Magnets

In Indiana, a 8 years old girl swallowed 20 marble-size steel balls and 10 magnets from her Magnetix Magna Case set toy.  The girl developed stomach pain and on examination by doctors through x-ray, the doctors found that her intestines had been torn eight holes by the magnets. Surgery was successfully performed on the girl and the metals were removed.

Pregnant Women and Pica

In Kenya, 74% of antenatal women in low income group are reported to practice pica regularly on daily basis. The substances the women swallow/chew are soft stones called odowa at 90%; soil at 61%, and other substances at 10%. This means majority of these women are mixing up more than one substance that they ingest. The women say they practice pica because they experience strong cravings prior to swallowing/chewing pica items. This means pica prevalence was significantly high among pregnant women in that country.

Health Consequences of Pica

There are several health consequences of pica on mother and child. Pica in young children is common and will lead to children eating parasites and dangerous chemicals.

Mercury is Toxic

Mercury is a metal that has a density of 13.5 grams per cubic cm. It is highly toxic and should be generally handled with care and be kept away from people suffering from Pica Disorder and children. Mercury, if ingested will cause both chronic and acute poisoning.

Did You Know Gold Can Be Eaten?

Gold has a density of 19.3 grams per cubic cm. Gold is inert. Gold can be used in food and it has been used in food by the noble in Medieval Europe. The noble thought that since Gold was very rare then it must have had health benefits. In some countries, gold is being used in decorating foods and drinks in the form of leaf, flakes or dust. Metallic gold has no taste and has no nutritional value and will leave your body chemistry unaltered because gold is inert. In no way does this suggest that you should go about eating gold at this day and age. Please do not attempt to put that valuable mental in your body.

Video: Woman Selling Soil for Pica

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    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 7 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      This business of eating things with no nutritive value is fascinating. You have written a very good hub - full of interesting stuff. Thanks.

    • ZarkoZivkovic profile image

      ZarkoZivkovic 7 years ago from Serbia

      I saw people do that, but never actually occurred to me that it might be a specific disorder.. live and learn :)

      Thanks for the info

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Very interesting!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I have never heard about it but it was really interesting and informative about a condition like that.