Research, with benefits

Sometimes the extra medical attention received while participating in a research study can improve your health in unexpected ways.

A pregnant woman

A pregnant woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a research study where we were evaluating the impact of nutrition education for women at risk of becoming diabetic during pregnancy, we discovered that one of our participants had a condition unrelated to diabetes that may have gone unnoticed had she not been enrolled in our study.

This particular participant was pregnant for the second time and she was concerned about the weight gain that she experienced with her first pregnancy. Looking for some answers, she decided to enroll in this study.

While sitting in the exam room for a scheduled visit during her second trimester, our dietitian walked in to find this woman counting out sheets of toilet paper and eventually explaining that she eats them regularly and did so during her first pregnancy as well. Although not very common, there is a condition known as pica that some women experience during pregnancy, as well as other occasions where a person might not be eating well.

Pica is defined as “consumption of non-nutritive, abnormal, or non-food items” and it often occurs when a person does not consume enough iron in their diet over an extended period of time. Pregnant women with pica have been found to eat dirt, drywall, chalk, and other non-food items … like toilet paper.

Knowing that her pregnancy was going about the same as her first, including the consumption of toilet paper, she knew that she needed help. Since she was receiving the extra diet and medical attention that came along with our research study, our team was able to identify the problem and notify her doctor and she was tested further and given additional iron to supplement her diet and bring her iron levels back up to a normal range.

If this woman had not enrolled herself in a research study, her condition may have gone unnoticed through her second pregnancy, as it had the first time around. Our dietitian was able to help her with her diet to help her find ways to control her body weight, as well as her iron intake, so that she could reduce the difficulties she had been having with her pregnancy.

In addition to the many expected benefits resulting from participating in clinical research studies, there are sometimes a few unexpected ones as well, including a little extra attention from professional health care providers.


Diane Habash bionutrition clinical research manager

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Categories: The Participant's Point of View, The Researcher's Point of View

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