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Ancient Practice of Clay Eating Putting Pregnant Women at Risk

publication date: Feb 7, 2011
author/source: De Montfort University

De Montfort UniversityPregnant women eating baked clay are at risk of exposing themselves and their unborn child to toxic chemicals, according to new research by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU). 

The practice of eating clay, known as geophagy, is an ancient tradition that is still widespread in many parts of the world, particularly Africa and parts of Asia, such as India and Bangladesh. 

The baked clay, known as sikor, can be purchased in the UK and is thought to be used for medicinal and nutritional purposes, especially by pregnant women, who may have certain mineral deficiencies. 

Dr Parvez Haris, head of the Biomedical and Environmental Health group, at DMU and his team collected sikor samples from ethnic shops in three different cities in the UK, Leicester, Birmingham and Luton. 

Tests revealed that the sikor, which was imported from Bangladesh, contained high levels of toxic elements, such as arsenic, cadmium and lead, which can cause cancer, kidney damage and brain damage. 

Exposure to lead can also result in premature delivery, stillbirth and miscarriage.  

They also calculated that a modest consumption of 50g sikor per day can result in exposure of three to six times the tolerable daily intake for arsenic and lead. 

It is thought that some people consume as much as 500g per day. 

In the parts of the world were geophagy is most common, some women are also exposed to arsenic through contaminated drinking water, which further increases the risk of health problems. 

Dr Haris said: "Geophagy has been in existence in virtually all societies since ancient times and is still prevalent in many parts of the world and the availability of sikor in the UK shows that pregnant women are still taking part in the practice. 

"Tests on the sikor from Bangladesh reveal that it contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals that are known to be harmful to humans. This is hugely worrying not only for pregnant women in the UK consuming the material, but for women in India and Bangladesh who may be drinking arsenic contaminated water as well. 

"It is vital that the composition of geophagy substances are thoroughly characterised to safeguard health and well-being of the consumers. Clay used to make sikor may be derived from polluted areas, containing bacteria and highly toxic chemicals which may further damage the health of a mother and her child."

A copy of the research paper can be found at



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