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Entries in Iceberg Lettuce (1)

Wednesday
Aug032011

Experts Respond to Theories about Food Cravings

Comstock/Thinkstock(ST. LOUIS) -- Elsie Campbell's love of salad became more than a healthy habit when she started eating three or four heads of iceberg lettuce each day for several months.

"After work, I'd go straight to the fridge and cut a wedge out of the lettuce and just eat it right there," said Campbell, 59, of Derby, England. "It was bizarre."

Around the same time in 2002, Campbell was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. After visiting the doctor, Campbell's husband Jim, a forensic scientist, began researching natural compounds in lettuce. He found that sulforaphane, a natural compound found in leafy greens, exhibits anticancer traits. It made sense to Jim -- he believed his wife's body was craving the leafy greens to fight off the cancerous cells.

But before lettuce lovers make an oncology appointment, experts contacted by ABC News were quick to note that hard science is not available to back up the Campbells' theory.

"I have never heard of cravings as a signal for cancer and cannot think of a reason that they would be, outside of old-fashioned things like iron deficiency from chronic blood loss, most often seen with colorectal cancer," said Dr. Lisa Carey, medical director at the University of North Carolina Breast Center.

Carey said some scientific evidence shows that people who are iron deficient are more likely to compulsively chomp on ice cubes or show other signs of pica, a condition that causes people to eat non-food substances such as dirt, chalk and paper.

Certain cravings, particularly those of non-food materials, can also be signs of mental illness, extreme diet restrictions or malnourishment.

"Studies have looked at food cravings, but most indicate a learned behavior that, over time, develops into a response pattern," said Connie Diekman, director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. "While some studies do show changes in brain chemicals similar to what is seen with drugs, the question is if the chemicals trigger the craving or if the learned connection with food and the desired response triggers the chemicals."

Food cravings are often associated with pregnancy, but experts say even those cravings are not based on what the woman's body actually needs.

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