Pica Basics

Written by: SphynxCatVP
Link to original: http://sphynxcatvp.nocturna.org/health/sc-pica.html

Occaisionally someone gets the idea that blooddrinking is one of the many forms of Pica, and assumes that anyone engaging in blooddrinking practices are suffering from it. This is usually followed by advice to see the doctor (which, actually, is good advice anyway...) to get the "problem" fixed.

This article will explain what Pica is - and isn't - and explain why blooddrinking is not Pica behavior.

What is pica?

Pica is an eating disorder characterized by repeatedly eating or drinking non-nutritional items when the patient is over 2 years old. (From about 18 months to 2 years, this is normal behavior of infants as they explore their world, and not considered inappropriate for that age bracket.) It is most often seen in children, though older individuals with developmental disabilities have also been diagnosed with Pica. In some areas of the world, Pica behavior is a culturally acceptable practice, and not considered to be a disorder in those situations.

Depending on the non-nutritional items, it may be harmless or life threatening. Most of the time, Pica is considered to be a secondary diagnosis (a symptom of another preexisting or concurrent condition) rather than a primary one.

In order for these actions to be considered Pica, they must persist for more than one month at an age when it's considered developmentally inappropriate, and NOT be in an area of the world where it's considered normal behavior.

Pica is usually a temporary condition that improves as children get older, or following pregnancy. For individuals with developmental disabilities, it can be a concern for a prolonged period of time.

What causes pica?

A specific cause is unknown, but there are a large number of theories that attempt to explain the phenomenon, ranging from psychological to biochemical:

Nutritional deficiencies, such as iron, calcium, zinc, thiamin, niacin, etc. Nutritional deficiencies can be caused by deliberate malnutrition (if the patient is starving themselves or on a fad diet; anorexia is one example) or malnutrition secondary to another cause (the patient has a preexisting gut problem such as Irritable Bowel/Colitis, Crohn's, Celiac, etc., is taking ulcer medications, and so on.)

Nutritional deficiencies may also occur during pregnancy if the mother-to-be is not taking in enough nutrients. Odd cravings (like the stereotypical pickles and ice cream) are common and normal throughout pregnancy; the problem comes in when the patient seeks non-nutritional items as well.

Developmental problems and/or mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia may contribute to Pica behavior, the same with parental neglect, lack of supervision or food deprivation - neglect and deprivation may be more frequently seen in children living in poverty.

How is it diagnosed?

There are no specific lab tests that detect Pica itself - however certain tests can detect the *effects* of Pica (levels of lead in the blood, for example) depending on the nature of the non-nutritional items and the resulting medical effects. These tests include bloodwork, xrays, colonoscopies, endoscopies, and so on - basically, things that look for the effects, or track solid substances in the GI tract to see whether it's passing through or getting stuck.

Medical staff must also rule out things like actual environmental poisoning (versus intentional ingestion), parasitic infection (which can come from eating dirt or sand), certain types of infectious diseases, and whether the patient is mentally capable of determining what is nutritional and what is not.

One well known symptom of pica is that of eating lead paint. Many areas now have universal screening policies of lead concentrations in the blood where there are a sufficient number of houses built before 1950. This may also be a common factor in a lot of older rental homes and apartments.

How is it treated?

Treatment must take into account both the symptoms AND the contributing factors, as well as properly managing any possible complications. Removal of toxic substances from the environment is critical. Any nutritional deficiencies need to be addressed - if the Pica is caused by nutritional deficiencies, it should resolve once the deficiency problems are fixed.

Doctors will likely work with both parents and children in helping to manage and prevent Pica-related behavior, and educate everyone - where possible - on ways to eat more appropriately. Medication may be prescribed if Pica is associated with behavioral problems not responding to behavioral treatments. Doctors will likely also check for any existing nutritional deficiencies where indicated, and if there is suspicion of toxins, appropriate testing and screening for those as well.

So what does this have to do with blooddrinking?

I don't believe Pica has *anything* to do with blooddrinking at all!


Partly because many cultures and countries have blood based food items - variants of blood sausage are popular in European countries, for example. This would imply that blood CAN be a food, even if other people find it disgusting and repulsive.

Is it nutritious?

After combing through a few medical studies online, I believe the answer to that question is yes. You can see more details in my article on nutritional and common uses for blood.

One the other hand, you can run blood tests to determine a patient's nutritional status - levels of Iron, B-Vitamins, Vitamin D, and so on - and there have been studies showing the positive effects of younger blood on older muscles. (One study at Stanford University, also linked below, referenced younger lab mice being connected to older lab mice, so this is a physical age difference, not only an issue of how long blood products are stored.)

My conclusion?

Because you can actually MEASURE the nutrient levels in the blood, I do not believe it counts as a "non-nutritional" item. Therefore, I do not believe blooddrinking by ayone qualifies as Pica behavior.