We all crave that cold, refreshing ice on a hot summer day to relieve the heat, but if you are craving it frequently, there just might be something more it’s telling you. The craving to eat something non-nutritional is called pica, and chewing ice is a symptom of this.
Most often pica is seen in children, but the addiction of chewing ice crosses all age boundaries. Usually this non-nutritional substance craving is related to a nutritional deficiency. Iron deficiency or anemia may be the case in some instances. To fit the addiction to chewing ice, or pagophagia, a person must persist in chewing ice for one month or more. Some people who are addicted to chewing ice will even go to the point of eating freezer frost to meet their needs. Not that’s just being desperate.
There is a complex interaction between nutritional requirements and behavior. Just simply supplementing with iron may fix the problem for many who are craving ice. Our iron levels can create significant problems when too high or too low, and it’s important to understand the process and monitor your iron levels.
A study evaluated the behavior of 81 patients who suffered iron deficiency anemia and found pagophagia was a common form of pica. About 16% of the participants who experienced pagophagia exhibited relief from the symptoms faster with an iron supplement rather than the recovery of their hemoglobin levels may have indicated. Physicians should look closely for chronic blood loss in those patients who exhibit pica behaviors. It may be an indication of slow blood loss and iron deficiency. Anemia is caused when your level of red blood cells is lower than normal and reduces the amount of oxygen your body can deliver to your cells. Without oxygen, your body is unable to function effectively.
Chewing ice can damage your teeth and jaws and there is less damage than from those side effects of addiction to chemicals, such as tobacco, drugs or alcohol, but
it may cause dental damage, and lack of treatment of the anemia can cause heart damage. Some of the gastrointestinal symptoms of an iron deficiency are a sore tongue, dry mouth, altered sense of taste, difficulty swallowing and mouth sores. Other symptoms of iron deficiency and anemia are fatigue and exhaustion that can affect the cognitive skills and ability. Chewing ice may trigger changes in the brain’s vascular system that could lead to an increased amount of oxygen delivery.
Some effects of iron deficiency anemia can be gastrointestinal polyps, chronic heavy menstrual periods or chronic bleeding stomach ulcers. If you feel you are iron deficient, have a simple blood test called a serum ferritin test to measure the molecule in your blood that carries iron. A healthy range is between 20 and 80 nanograms per milliliter. Your iron level can be boosted by consuming beef, ham, lamb, turkey, chicken, veal, pork, shrimp, clams, scallops, oyster, tuna, spinach, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, string beans, beet greens, kale, watermelon, dates, figs, raisins, prunes, tomatoes, dried peas, lentils, dried beans, molasses and tomato products.
Choose your foods wisely and be sure to include the above foods in your diet to help keep your body and that of your family, healthy.
–Dr Fredda Branyon