Pica is a very strange and rare psychological disorder that causes an appetite for soil, coal, paper, or other traditionally non-food items. Last month, Dewi Evans, 61, of South Wales, died during surgery to recover a screw, a pen top, magnet, and loose change from his bowels. Pegged on the sad death of Evans, The Guardian published a report on pica syndrome. From the article:
In 2002, a 62-year-old French man with a history of mental illness went to hospital complaining of stomach pains. An x-ray showed he had swallowed five kilograms of coins, necklaces and needles; his stomach was so heavy it had been forced down between his hips. He died after an operation to remove the objects. In 2000, Edward Cope, a 33-year-old man with autism from Manchester, died from complications after swallowing 10 buttons, a drawing pin, pieces of chain and bone and a large amount of black foam rubber...
In one American study, 25% of patients in psychiatric care were found to have pica and it appeared in 60% of people with autism (pica tends to be a symptom of something else rather than a disorder in itself).
There are two main types of the condition, says O'Brien. "Food pica, where what a person eats is edible but is not prepared for eating - for instance, I have had patients who would eat a catering-sized tin of coffee powder or gorge on marmalade or potato peelings - and non-food pica, where people eat anything else. Once it starts, it can be difficult to control."