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Environ Geochem Health. 2019 Apr 11. doi: 10.1007/s10653-019-00288-5. [Epub ahead of print]

Review of the nature of some geophagic materials and their potential health effects on pregnant women: some examples from Africa.

Author information

Department of Geology, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa.
GeoBioTec, Geosciences Department, University of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal.
EpiUnit, Public Health Institute, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal.
Environmental and Engineering Geology Division, Geological Survey of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia.
Department of Geology, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa.


The voluntary human consumption of soil known as geophagy is a global practice and deep-rooted in many African cultures. The nature of geophagic material varies widely from the types to the composition. Generally, clay and termite mound soils are the main materials consumed by geophagists. Several studies revealed that gestating women across the world consume more soil than other groups for numerous motives. These motivations are related to medicinal, cultural and nutrients supplementation. Although geophagy in pregnancy (GiP) is a universal dynamic habit, the highest prevalence has been reported in African countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Nigeria, Tanzania, and South Africa. Geophagy can be both beneficial and detrimental. Its health effects depend on the amount and composition of the ingested soils, which is subjective to the geology and soil formation processes. In most cases, the negative health effects concomitant with the practice of geophagy eclipse the positive effects. Therefore, knowledge about the nature of geophagic material and the health effects that might arise from their consumption is important.


Africa; Geophagy; Health implications; Pregnant women; Soil material consumed


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