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Prog Clin Biol Res. 1983;129:71-97.

Geophagia in Turkey: iron and zinc deficiency, iron and zinc absorption studies and response to treatment with zinc in geophagia cases.


A brief summary of the research carried out on the problem of geophagia is reported in this paper. Geophagia was a common finding among Turkish children and women in villages, associated with severe iron deficiency anemia in addition to zinc depletion. The syndrome characterized by geophagia, iron deficiency anemia, growth retardation, hypogonadism and zinc deficiency has been observed in both sexes in Turkey for several decades. Zinc deficiency has been also shown by our group in this syndrome. The decreased concentrations of zinc in serum, plasma, RBC, hair and urine were measured by atomic absorption spectrophotometer. Oral iron (both inorganic and radioactive iron) and zinc absorption tests were carried out with and without clay and revealed decreased iron and zinc absorption in some cases with prolonged geophagia. Therefore, malabsorption of iron and zinc was considered to be an additional and/or a new finding in the syndrome. Furthermore, Turkish clay most probably inhibits zinc absorption in a way similar to its inhibition of iron absorption. It was worthy of observation that some Turkish patients with this syndrome had a thalassemia-like appearance with similar skull-bone changes. Finally, growth retardation and delayed puberty were shown to be corrected by oral zinc treatment for 6-month terms. Linear growth and sexual maturation were found to be greater in the zinc-treated group than in the controls.

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