Pica, described as an intense desire to eat non-food substances, typically affects children and people with developmental disabilities. However, a common ice pica known as pagophagia, affects a wider segment of the population. For many people, ice munching amounts to nothing more than a harmless pastime, but it might indicate a serious problem. If you are concerned about excessive ice consumption, contact your physician to determine the underlying cause and long-term consequences.
Ice eating often points to underlying iron deficiency anemia, although diagnosis may prove difficult. According to Dr. Jerry Spivak, in an article for the National Anemia Action Council, patients sometimes hesitate to divulge their ice cravings during a routine medical exam. The exact correlation between pagophagia and anemia is still unknown. Research suggests ice may soothe the discomfort of tongue inflammation in patients with anemia.
- Ice eating often points to underlying iron deficiency anemia, although diagnosis may prove difficult.
- Research suggests ice may soothe the discomfort of tongue inflammation in patients with anemia.
Is Eating Ice Healthy?
Ice chips can provide nausea relief for a variety of medical conditions, such as:
- motion sickness
- food poisoning
Ice also helps prevent dehydration when vomiting or diarrhea accompanies nausea. Try using flavored ice cubes made from your favorite non-acidic beverage. For nausea relief, let the ice melt in your mouth rather than chewing it.
Some dieters turn to eating ice cubes between meals as a non-calorie snack to satisfy hunger. Savvy marketers have taken things a step further by developing the "ice cube diet." Specially formulated ice cubes contain an herbal supplement purported to be an appetite suppressant. The company’s website recommends dieters eat one lemon-flavored cube to curb hunger cravings for an entire day. Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, says no evidence exists to support the effectiveness or safety of the ice cube diet product.
- Some dieters turn to eating ice cubes between meals as a non-calorie snack to satisfy hunger.
- The company’s website recommends dieters eat one lemon-flavored cube to curb hunger cravings for an entire day.
Habit or Obsession
The Nutrition of Italian Ice
Perhaps you simply eat ice to quench your thirst on a warm day or to relieve stress at work. Eating ice, like other habits, such as nail biting, can become an obsession. If eating ice takes up an increasing amount of time and hinders your ability to perform daily tasks, simple behavior modification may help. Try to alleviate stressful situations and substitute sugarless chewing gum for ice. If you feel you can no longer control your ice cravings, seek the help of a health care professional 1.
- Perhaps you simply eat ice to quench your thirst on a warm day or to relieve stress at work.
- If eating ice takes up an increasing amount of time and hinders your ability to perform daily tasks, simple behavior modification may help.
Even occasional ice eating can do serious harm to your teeth and gums. Repeated chewing of any hard substance creates minute fissures in tooth enamel. Over time, the small cracks become more pronounced and frequently lead to dental problems later in life. Eating ice can literally break teeth and damage expensive dental work like braces, crowns and fillings. It may also cause or exacerbate tooth sensitivity.
- Even occasional ice eating can do serious harm to your teeth and gums.
Is Eating Ice Healthy?
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- Kids Health: Pica
- That’s Fit; Ice Cube Diet; Martha Edwards; July 28, 2010
- Rabel A, Leitman SF, Miller JL. Ask about ice, then consider iron. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2016;28(2):116-20. doi:10.1002/2327-6924.12268
- Bhatia MS, Kaur N. Pagophagia - A common but rarely reported form of pica. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(1):195-6. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/6829.3959
- Barton JC, Barton JC, Bertoli LF. Pica associated with iron deficiency or depletion: clinical and laboratory correlates in 262 non-pregnant adult outpatients. BMC Blood Disord. 2010;10:9. doi:10.1186/1471-2326-10-9
- Jimenez K, Kulnigg-Dabsch S, Gasche C. Management of iron deficiency anemia. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2015;11(4):241-50.
- Moshe G, Amitai Y, Korchia G, et al. Anemia and iron deficiency in children: association with red meat and poultry consumption. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2013;57(6):722-7. doi:10.1097/MPG.0b013e3182a80c42
- American Psychiatric Association. Feeding and eating disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. March 18, 2013.
- Uchida T, Kawati Y. Pagophagia in iron deficiency anemia. Rinsho Ketsueki. 2014;55(4):436-9.
- Call NA, Simmons CA, Mevers JEL, et al. Clinical outcomes of behavioral treatments for pica in children with developmental disabilities. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014;45:2105-14. doi:10.1007/s10803-015-2375-z
- Al Nasser Y, Alsaad AJ. Pica. In: StatPearls. Updated January 30, 2019.
- Miao D, Young SL, Golden CD. A meta-analysis of pica and micronutrient status. Am J Hum Biol. 2015;27(1):84-93. doi:10.1002/ajhb.22598
- Soppi ET. Iron deficiency without anemia - A clinical challenge. Clin Case Rep. 2018;6(6):1082-6. doi:10.1002/ccr3.1529
- Lerner AJ. Treatment of pica behavior with olanzapine. CNS Spectr. 2008;13(1):19. doi:10.1017/s1092852900016096
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Injectafer (ferric carboxymaltose injection), for intravenous use. Updated January 2018.
- Lands R, Isang E. Secondary hemochromatosis due to chronic oral iron supplementation. Case Rep Hematol. 2017;2017:2494167. doi:10.1155/2017/2494167
- Nutrition Diva; Is Chewing Ice Bad for You; Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.; November 30, 2010
- Columbia University Health Services: The Cold Hard Truth
- “Los Angeles Times”; Dirt, Ice -- Those Cravings May Not Be So…; Susan Bowerman; April 2, 2007
- “The Journal of Nutrition”; Pica in an Urban Environment; Cecile H. Edwards, et al.; 1994
Linda Chechar is a writer with more than 20 years of career experience in print and broadcast media, advertising, real estate and retail home decor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Northwestern State University. Her content is currently featured on a variety of websites and blogs.