Despite widespread consumption of soil among animals, the role of geophagy in health maintenance remains an enigma. It has been hypothesized that animals consume soil for supplementation of minerals and protection against toxins. Most studies determine only the total elemental composition of soil, which may not reflect the amount of minerals available to the consumer. Our aim was to test these hypotheses by evaluating the bioavailability of iron in soil consumed by chacma baboons, using a technique that simulates digestion and adsorption. Our results indicate that, despite variation in absolute iron concentration of soil samples, actual iron bioavailability was low while clay content was quite high. This suggests that iron supplementation is unlikely to be the primary motivation for geophagy in this population, and that detoxification is a plausible explanation. This study demonstrates that more research on bioavailability and clay composition is needed to determine the role geophagy plays in health maintenance.
- Caco-2 cells
- Iron absorption
- Nonhuman primates
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics