Geophagic earths consumed by women in western Kenya contain dangerous levels of lead, arsenic, and iron

Joshua D. Miller*, Shalean M. Collins, Moshood Omotayo, Stephanie L. Martin, Katherine L. Dickin, Sera L. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objectives: Geophagy is commonly reported by pregnant women and children, yet its causes and consequences remain poorly understood. Therefore, we sought to determine if geophagy could contribute micronutrients and/or be a source of heavy metal exposure by examining the elemental composition of earths consumed in Kakamega, Kenya. Methods: Ten samples of earths commonly consumed during pregnancy were collected by study enumerators and analyzed using inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy. Samples were either collected at markets or from walls of participants' homes, based on where participants reported most commonly sourcing their consumed earths. Results: Based on estimated intakes (40 g/day), all samples had lead levels that exceeded the provisional maximum tolerable daily intake, and one sample exceeded the threshold for arsenic. Further, estimated intakes of iron for all samples were at least 8.9 times higher than the established threshold. Elemental concentrations were also compared by the site of sample collection (market vs. household wall); market samples had significantly higher iron concentrations and lower calcium concentrations than wall samples. Conclusions: Geophagic earths in Kakamega may be harmful because of dangerously high levels of lead, arsenic, and iron. The prevalence of geophagy among vulnerable populations underscores the importance of understanding its causes and consequences for accurate public health messaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23130
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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