Human geophagia, Calabash chalk and Undongo: Mineral element nutritional implications

Peter William Abrahams, Theo C. Davies, Abiye O. Solomon, Amanda Jayne Trow, Joanna Wragg

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The prime aim of our work is to report and comment on the bioaccessible concentrations – i.e., the soluble content of chemical elements in the gastrointestinal environment that is available for absorption – of a number of essential mineral nutrients and potentially harmful elements (PHEs) associated with the deliberate ingestion of African geophagical materials, namely Calabash chalk and Undongo. The pseudo-total concentrations of 13 mineral nutrients/PHEs were quantified following a nitric-perchloric acid digestion of nine different Calabash chalk samples, and bioaccessible contents of eight of these chemical elements were determined in simulated saliva/gastric and intestinal solutions obtained via use of the Fed ORganic Estimation human Simulation Test (FOREhST) in vitro procedure. The Calabash chalk pseudo-total content of the chemical elements is often below what may be regarded as average for soils/shales, and no concentration is excessively high. The in vitro leachate solutions had concentrations that were often lower than those of the blanks used in our experimental procedure, indicative of effective adsorption: lead, a PHE about which concern has been previously raised in connection with the consumption of Calabash chalk, was one such chemical element where this was evident. However, some concentrations in the leachate solutions are suggestive that Calabash chalk can be a source of chemical elements to humans in bioaccessible form, although generally the materials appear to be only a modest supplier: this applies even to iron, a mineral nutrient that has often been linked to the benefits of geophagia in previous academic literature. Our investigations indicate that at the reported rates of ingestion, Calabash chalk on the whole is not an important source of mineral nutrients or PHEs to humans. Similarly, although Undongo contains elevated pseudo-total concentrations of chromium and nickel, this soil is not a significant source to humans for any of the bioaccessible elements investigated
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e53304
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 07 Jan 2013


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