News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

Why Kenyan women crave stones

Why Kenyan women crave stones

Stones on sale in Kenya market

Nancy Akoth is four months pregnant and like many women in her state has strange cravings.

Some women eat coal, gherkins or soap but Mrs Akoth craves soft stones, known in Kenya, where she lives, as “odowa”.

“I just have this urge to eat these stones. I do very crazy things, I would even wake up at night and go looking for them,” she told.

“I consulted my doctor and all he told me is that maybe I’m lacking iron and gave me medication on iron, but I still have the urge to eat those stones.”

Luckily for Mrs Akoth, she is not alone in craving stones and they are easily found on sale in Nairobi’s sprawling Gikomba market.

It can actually cause things like kidney damage and liver damage, if you don’t take enough fluid
Alice Ndong, nutritionist

Among the fish-mongers and dealers in second-hand goods who flock to the market are traders who specialise in odowa.

Stone-seller Stephen Ndirangu unsurprisingly says women are his main customers.

“Most of them buy the stones to go and sell them to women who are pregnant,” Mr Ndirangu says.

He says he sells one 90kg sack for about $6.

‘Pleasant taste’

Although they are stones, they are too soft to break the teeth of Mrs Akoth and her fellow cravers.

Nutritionist Alice Ndong says the stones have a bland taste.

“It’s a pleasant taste. It doesn’t have a tangy flavor or a salty or a sugary flavor. It’s a bit like eating flour,” she told.

I cannot do without it
Sylvia Moi

She says that because of their abrasive nature, the stones actually clean the teeth as the stone is chewed and the finer particles pass through the mouth.

However, she warns this should not be used as an excuse to eat the stones as the habit can also have harmful consequences.

“If somebody eats those stones and they don’t take enough water, then they will actually get severe constipation… It can actually be very dangerous,” she says.

“It can actually cause things like kidney damage and liver damage, if you don’t take enough fluid because it will form a mass that cannot be excreted.”

“When you eat these stones, it’s like eating metal. The particles – because it’s not food – are not digested as finely as fruits or vegetables,” she says.

‘Irresistible’

The phenomenon of craving non-food items like soil or soft stones is referred to as pica, a Latin word for magpie, the bird notorious for eating almost anything.

Researchers from the University of Nigeria interviewed 1,071 pregnant women attending a prenatal clinic at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi.

At least 800 of those interviewed said they ate soil, stones and other non-food items during their pregnancy.

But it is not only those who are pregnant who indulge in this habit.

Sylvia Moi still finds the soft stones irresistible, 14 years after she gave birth.

“I cannot do without it… Walking without it makes me feel bad, as if I’m lacking something [or] I’m hungry,” Mrs Moi says.

She says she would like to quit the habit but just cannot stop herself.

“When you eat it you look awkward, people think: ‘What is it that you lack in you that makes you eat that awkward stone,'” she says.

Infection

Experts say that the craving to eat odowa is largely due to a deficiency of vital minerals, like calcium, in the body.

“Unfortunately, these stones don’t offer a lot of calcium. They offer some other forms of minerals like magnesium but not much calcium,” says Mrs Ndong.

Research shows that these habits have negative side-effects on the women’s health, ranging from parasitic infestations, anaemia and intestinal complications

“The problem with these stones is sometimes they’re not hygienic. I remember up-country I’ve seen people just go somewhere, dig up and maybe people urinate in that spot,” she says.

Experts warn pregnant women and others who enjoy eating odowa to try to ignore these cravings for the sake of their health.

The researchers say that the women are better off eating a balanced diet, than remaining hooked to the myth that their changing bodies need soft stones and soil.

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August 26, 2008

Mums ‘accept natural birth risks’

Mums ‘accept natural birth risks’

Pregnant woman

About a quarter of UK births are carried out by Caesarean section

First-time mothers-to-be will accept greater risks than clinicians for a natural birth, research suggests.

A Sydney, Australia study also found the women prepared to accept higher pain levels, reports the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Researchers asked 102 pregnant women and 341 midwives, obstetricians and other doctors what complications would make them choose a Caesarean section.

The journal editor said doctors were “biased”, having seen things go wrong.

This indicates that experiencing labour and attempting a normal birth are two very important priorities in women’s decision-making
Professor Philip Steer
Editor in chief, BJOG

Approximately one in four pregnancies in the UK ends in a Caesarean section, and most are offered in the face of potential complications such as the baby lying in the wrong position for natural birth.

But the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital study suggested that women, given an informed choice, were less likely than the professionals treating them to take a more cautious approach.

A total of 102 women, 84 midwives, 166 obstetricians, 12 urogynaecologists and 79 colorectal surgeons were interviewed to find out whether different complications would prompt them to choose a Caesarean.

Researchers asked them about mild complications such as a prolonged birth and superficial tears to severe problems such as anal and urinary incontinence, vaginal prolapse and severe tearing.

In all categories, the pregnant women were far more likely to be prepared to put up with complications in order to have a natural birth than their midwives or doctors.

Priorities

Study author Catherine Turner said: “Our study found that pregnant women were more likely to aim for a vaginal delivery, and they accept a higher threshold of risks from vaginal delivery when compared with clinicians.”

Professor Philip Steer, the journal’s editor in chief, said: “This indicates that experiencing labor and attempting a normal birth are two very important priorities in women’s decision-making.

“It may also indicate that doctors are biased by their inevitable involvement in complex cases, or labours where things have gone wrong.”

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, agreed that health professionals could let their own negative experiences influence the recommendations they gave to women.

“If they’ve seen a traumatic birth, or been involved in a tragedy, there is no debriefing for them.

“It can mean they are more judgemental about the risks involved.”

She added: “I recognise that this is very difficult to avoid, but they need to realise that for most women, this is something that they feel it is important to do for themselves.”

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