During my childhood, I remember my father asking me if I had eaten my “spoonful of dirt today”. At the time, I took this to mean that some of the dirt I had gotten into had ended up in my mouth. As I grew up, I learned this was not only a metaphor, but also literal. As psychologists, we normally refer to geophagia as Pica. Metaphorically, it means “have you had your dose of life experiences today”. When I started to learn about medical anthropology, I found that the literal meaning stems back to Hippocrates and the practice of eating earth. Hippocrates of Kos (460-377 BC) wrote of the pregnant women wanting to eat earth. “Earth eating” was also noted by A Cornelius Celsus during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD), Aetius of Amida during the Byzantine era, and Gaius Plinius Secundus (23-79 AD). Although some found this to be an odd practice (or pathology), the Ebers Papyrus (approximately 1550 BC) referenced use of medicinal clay for intestinal complaints, as well as for external use on wounds. Records of the ingestion of clay tablets, as anit-inflammatory agents and antiseptics, go back to 2500 BC in Mesopotamia.
Why eat earth or clay? This made more sense when I learned about primitive tribal medicine men who performed brain surgeries and their patients lived. The reason attributed to this was that the patient had been exposed to the local flora and bacteria to a point that he/she had developed an immunity to them. Thus, when the skulls were examined, there was evidence that the cuts in the skull had healed, and that the patient had survived.
In ancient times, the earth contained not only essential minerals and nutrients, but also provided exposure to indigenous bacteria and microbes, which forced our immune systems to develop. Today, we would be hard pressed to find earth that does not contain a significant amount of toxins which are far from helpful. Over the years, we have exposed the earth to various compounds, from pesticides and herbicides, to the excretion of antibiotics, and various medicinal preparations from our bodies. Our almost obsessional preoccupation with avoiding germs has resulted in increasingly deadlier strains of pathogens to develop.
In an attempt to control weather, we have exposed the world to geoengineering, which carries with it other risks, throwing the balance of this planet farther off, to the point that we find our air and land polluted with aluminum, barium, strontium, and other dangerous heavy metals.
Since the 1950’s, various defoliants, herbicides and pesticides, have been used to the point that identified build-up in the environment, and in animals (including humans), is being identified. Some of these chemicals include: organophosphate, carbamate and glyphosate, which are well documented to having a profound impact on the health of individuals and the developmental processes.
We are faced with additional challenges. Humankind’s attempt to create more sources of consumable electricity has resulted in increasingly costly damage to the planet. A good example of this is nuclear power facilities, which produce more waste than is justified for the amount of energy produced. In addition, they carry with them risks of events like Chernobyl and Fukushima which toxify the world, killing off not only the surrounding area; but in the case of Fukushima, impacting life in the world’s oceans and beyond. There are exceptions such as the wolves of Chernobyl who have, by the Grace of God, adapted and survived, but this Grace has not extended to most other life forms impacted by nuclear accidents. At this point, radiation from the Fukushima accident and others is being found in remote locations, including the mountains of Tibet.
The more toxic the world becomes, the more desperate individuals become to find ways of detoxifying themselves and their environment. What is interesting is that some of these detoxification solutions come from the earth. Zeolite has long been a filtering agent to remove contaminates in industry and agriculture. Recently, a consumable form of Zeolite has been used by humans to help celeate heavy metals from the body tissues. Zeolite is a crystalline nano-particle structure which traps contaminates, including radioactive particles, allowing them to be released from the body through the urine.
Studies by Falkinham et al, on the red clays from Jordan, have supported that antibiotic-producing bacteria within the clay were effective to fight off E-coli. Bentonite has also been studied for detoxification properties.
Shilajit, another detoxifier, has been used in India and the Himalaya region. Shilajit is a tar-like organic substance, which comes out from between the rocks in the Himalayan mountain region, which contains minerals in ionic forms; humic acid and fulvic acid.
It would appear that in addition to considering filtering our water from pollutants, excessive fluoride, and harmful chemicals, we will have to make sure, if we are to continue to practice any form of geophagia, the need to do the same for the earth, at least until we find a way of making amends for the harm that we have done her.