By Ogechi Ugwu,Rosemary Asogwa & Ifeoma Okwara
Many beliefs have gone spree over the consumption of calabash chalk, a grey substance extracted from the soil which is mostly consumed by people in the South East and other parts of Nigeria.
Calabash chalk is a type of chalk that is sold in ethnic stores and markets, which usually comes in such varieties as powders, molded shapes and blocks. Its contents include: sand, wood ash and salt. It has been discovered to also contain fossilized seashells, clay and mud as well as lead and arsenic.
Identified with different names in many parts of Nigeria and globally calabash chalk is enjoyed by both men, women, and children, but most especially, pregnant women as it is believed to deal with morning sicknesses.
Other beliefs making the rounds are that calabash chalk is good for the treatment of pimples. It is also held that certain people who hardly have access to some food nutrients such as iron, etc take it to replenish such nutrients in their body, since it is believed to have some nutrients.
However, many medical researches and experts have debunked such notions. The Food Standard Agency (FSA) in Northern Ireland has advised that people, especially pregnant women quit consuming calabash chalk as it endangers both the unborn child as well as the breastfed babies.
FSA in a media release said it was made aware of a problem with calabash chalk by the London Borough of Greenwich after results of sampling taken locally indicated high levels of lead. Tests of samples taken by the Agency also showed that calabash contained in it high level of lead and exposure to lead can result to a number of harmful effects, including infecting the nervous system of a child.
Many people who are still in the habit of consuming the substance do so for various reasons. While some take it because of the unease they feel after consuming some food, others do so because of the natural scents of dust emitting from it.
According to Mrs. Edith Okwagbe, who sales calabash chalk “I don’t take it now. I only sale it, but I took it during pregnancies because I spat a lot. I also smelt it just for the fun of it. It really helped me then to alleviate morning sickness” she said.
Also baring her mind on the consumption of calabash chalk, Nneka who derives satisfaction from consuming the substance said “I started eating Uro since fifteen years ago. “But I just stopped last year July after taking some supplements” “Before now, I cannot let a day go by without eating it. I use it in the place of food sometimes. And I remember as our people always say, it is mainly for pregnant women, but I have not been pregnant to find out about that.”
When asked if she experienced any health implications after consuming it, she said it has not had any side effect on me ever since I started taking it. Rather, it has been very beneficial for me”.
Speaking on the issue, Dr. Mba Sunday, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist at the Enugu State University Teaching hospital said that there are cravings associated with pregnancies which are not really normal.
“You see a pregnant woman craving to take dust and so many things. Definitely, a number of them are not good and can be harmful to these women. “It has been discovered that the deficiency of certain minerals and vitamins in the body of a pregnant woman could predispose them to certain cravings”
Continuing, he said “The right thing for them to do is to see their doctors preferably, an obstetrician and gynecologist each time they have such cravings. The doctor would be able to evaluate them properly to know if there are such deficiencies, and tell them a proper way to address them.
Speaking further, he said “Some of them take substances that are not hygienically healthy for them. These substances will not only create further problems for them but will also affect their babies as well”.
The yearning for substances like calabash chalk during pregnancy is a sign of deficiency of certain minerals and vitamins in the body which is better referred to as pica syndrome- a medical condition that makes people yearn to consume irrelevant substances. When such substances are consumed, they create worse health issues. It is therefore advisable that you go for medical checkup each time the yearning comes.