At a certain point with kids, everything goes into the mouth – toys, hands, feet, hair – you name it.  If it’s within reach, a baby will bring it to his mouth.  Tasting and chewing are a baby’s way of exploring his environment, of relieving sore gums from teething, of communicating hunger or readiness to start eating solid foods…and then they discover dirt!  Whether it’s sand in the sandbox or a handful of potting soil, some kids prefer clay to cookies any day of the week.

While the AMA would like us to believe the desire to eat dirt is a pathological condition called “pica”, the truth is eating dirt is usually harmless, extremely common and potentially beneficial.  Pregnant women are also known for the strange reflex to eat dirt, which may have many explanations.  Consider this article by Gerald N. Callahan from the CDC:

“Eating dirt…rather than being abnormal, may be an evolutionary adaptation acquired over millennia of productive and not-so-productive interactions with bacteria—an adaptation that enhances fetal immunity and increases calcium, eliminates gastric upset, detoxifies some plant and animal toxins, and perhaps boosts mothers’ immunity…”

As for the nearly universal tendency of children to ‘geophagy’:

“Among children, too, it seems eating dirt might have immunologic consequences. Maternal immunoglobulins are secreted in breast milk shortly before birth and for 1 year or more afterwards. Children often begin eating dirt a year or two after birth. As maternal immunity wanes, eating dirt might “vaccinate” children who are losing their maternal IgA, which could stimulate production of nascent immunoglobulins, especially IgA. Eating dirt might also help populate intestinal flora.”

While the article admits most of this remains ‘speculative’, the scientific data is compelling enough to inspire further research.  Of course, eating dirt can also be dangerous.  One major reason to be concerned about ‘geophagy’ is the undisputed toxicity of urban soils.  Lead is especially prominent in roadside soils.  The prevalence of bacteria and parasites is undisputed, and enough to discourage the unsupervised practice of supplementing one’s diet with dirt.

If your child can’t resist the mud-cake with twigs for candles, he may be trying to tell you something.  Eating dirt may be an indication of mineral deficiency, especially Calcium and Silica.  These two minerals are vital not only for fetal development but throughout early childhood.  Calcium is the most important mineral for strong bones and teeth, and Silica is necessary for the formation of collagen.  Deficiency of any of these minerals may result in delayed growth and learning.  Mineral deficiency, however, is not automatically solved by chewing the dirt from under your nails.

Short of putting mud pie on the menu, there are two homeopathic remedies to know about when you see delayed development and a desire to eat dirt: Calcarea Carbonica and Silicea.

Calcarea Carbonica is a remedy prepared from oyster shells.  The most memorable keynote of Calcarea is “craves indigestible things” – chalk, pencils, uncooked potato, and – yes – even dirt!  The typical presentation is a child who appears flabby and weak, and behind the curve.  Late to walk and talk, delayed teething and closing of the fontanel are all indications of the need for Calcarea.

While a case needing Calcarea may take several months or years to develop, Silicea is more readily recognized.  Silicea, or homeopathic Silicon Dioxide, is a very important remedy to remember where there is a “failure to thrive.”  A newborn who cannot tolerate breast milk, who has low stamina and appears emaciated may recover his strength from taking Silica.

Because children, especially infants, are so fragile, it is imperative that any concerns regarding growth and development are thoroughly assessed by your child’s pediatrician.  While receiving conventional support with close monitoring, an appropriately prescribed homeopathic remedy may support a more rapid and thorough recovery.  I believe that homeopathy, in such instances, is absolutely complementary to modern conventional medicine and these therapeutic approaches can and should be used in tandem.

While these remedies do not supply the body with Calcium or Silica from a nutritional standpoint, it is interesting to observe how, when they are appropriately and homeopathically prescribed, they actually benefit cases of mineral deficiency.  One might even postulate that the energetic resonance of each substance inspires more efficient assimilation, thus alleviating the characteristic symptoms.  But I know you, Dr. Mom, never take things at face value.  Do some research, consult your friendly neighborhood homeopath, and see for yourself – maybe that handful of mud isn’t as tasty as it looks!

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