Be Careful What You Eat

30 Oct

People eat some fairly odd things. There’s even a medical term for some of these foreign-substance ingestions: Pica. Some people eat their own hair (hair pica) and rarely this leads to hair ball formation–just like your cat. People eat coins, starch, paint flecks, and even dirt. In the South there is a long tradition of chalk pica and clay pica (the eating of the red clay dirt that is so common in that region). The belief, passed down generation to generation, is that the red clay offers minerals that the body needs. It doesn’t. In truth, the clay can bind iron and remove it from the body and lead to iron deficiency anemia.



In two odd cases the ingestion of foreign substances has lead to serious health consequences and even death.

Apparently a new fad is to drink cocktails that contain Liquid Nitrogen (N). Sounds delicious I know but the problem is that Liquid N hovers between -196 degrees F. (its boiling point–the temp at which it converts to its gaseous form) and -346 degrees F. (its freezing point–the temp at which it becomes solid). This can literally freeze the stomach and lead to tissue death.

This is what happened to Gaby Scanlon. She ingested the drink as part of her 18th birthday celebration at a local bar only to end up in the hospital with her stomach surgically removed after it perforated. Not the best of birthdays, I imagine, and definitely not what she expected. Her story should be a cautionary tale for others.

Then there is 32-year-old Edward Archbold. He entered a “roach and worm” eating contest run by a local pet store. The grand prize? A python. Afterwards he became ill (you think?), vomited, and died.

It is unclear what exactly killed him. Was it a toxin in the roaches and worms? Was it a rip or rupture of the esophagus from his vomiting? Tearing of the esophagus with vomiting is called Mallory-Weiss Syndrome while esophageal rupture in this circumstance is termed Boerhaave’s Syndrome. Hopefully the medical examiner’s determination will sort this out.


9 responses to “Be Careful What You Eat

  1. lemitchellrn

    October 30, 2012 at 10:21 am

    I ate ice when I was pregnant, although being heavily pregnant in July and August might have had something to do with that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      October 30, 2012 at 10:24 am

      Not an uncommon occurrence during pregnancy. Interestingly, some who are avid ice eaters are actually anemic–this can be one clue to the presence of iron-deficiency anemia. Not sure why.


      • lemitchellrn

        October 30, 2012 at 10:27 am

        Yup, I was that too! But I couldn’t tolerate the prenatal vitamins with iron.


  2. Teresa Reasor

    October 31, 2012 at 5:04 am

    A friend of mine went to China. They eat EVERYTHING there. Nothing is ruled out as a food source. Listening to her made me grateful I live in the good ol’ USA.

    My mother talked about eating coal as a girl.
    My brother ate dirt as a child and almost died from a earth worm infestation. He looked like one of those poor children over in Ethiopia with the swollen bellies. Once she’d dosed him with worm medicine and he’d passed at least 250 worms she had to ban him from playing outside unless another adult was with him. He’d eat dirt by the handfuls. I’m certain it was a cycle. The more anemic he became the more he ate. Triggers my gag reflex just thinking about it.

    Teresa R.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      October 31, 2012 at 6:56 am

      Your brother probably had tapeworms, not earthworms. They multiply and grow rapidly and basically suck all the nutrition out of the food that is eaten resulting in weight loss and malnutrition. The med kills them and as you noted they can then be passed in very large numbers.


    • Misty Dietz

      November 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm



  3. Brenda

    November 8, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    My dad’s most likely exposures to the always fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) were eating goat brains and squirrel brains. I knew about the goat brains but his students knew about the squirrel brains.

    Interesting about the ice and anemia thing. As a teen I just adored eating ice (and I do have family members on both sides who have had anemia) but since I got married (and have a husband who believes in a more well rounded diet) I don’t have any inclination to eat ice. (And I didn’t have anemia last time anyone checked).

    One learns so many interesting things from your always fascinating blog, Doug.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      November 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      Thanks for your comments

      That’s not uncommon. Some people like to eat ice. As a physician, when someone is a constant ice eater it raises the possibility of anemia so we always test for it.

      Glad you enjoy the blog.



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