an ice cube on a tongue

Q. I used to crave ice just like a drug addict. The first thing in the morning I had to have it. I would get a large soft drink and ask for extra ice. I didn’t care about the pop–it was the ice I wanted.

I went to my doctor for a check up because I felt tired and would get out of breath easily. My test showed that I was severely anemic, with a blood count of six. My physician was so concerned that he called me at home the next evening and told me not to exert myself in any way until they did further testing.

This had happened so gradually that I didn’t realize I was slowly bleeding to death. Further tests showed I had an iron deficiency caused by extremely heavy periods. Iron supplements quickly brought my count up to normal ranges, and my cravings for ice went away immediately. They never returned, though it has been many years.

A. It is worth remembering that unusual cravings, whether for ice, cornstarch, clay or even popcorn, can be the result of a mineral deficiency. Anyone who discovers such a craving should ask to have iron or zinc levels tested. Usually, as in your case, correcting the deficiency banishes the craving. This is especially important for children who may be eating paint chips, since their craving could lead to lead poisoning (Australian Family Physician, May 2013).

Bea remarked: “I was addicted to chewing ice. I also had terrible restless legs. About 25 years ago I tried to donate blood and my iron was extremely low. They told me to go to the doctor. Once my iron was back up where it belonged, both problems went away. I occasionally still get restless legs, but that only happens when I am very tired or lacking sleep. A good night sleep takes care of it.”

This type of craving is classified as “pica” by doctors. In some regions of the country, people don’t find it unusual to crave clay or cornstarch. T.A.’s description of her habit sounds a lot like addiction:

“I am 26 years old as of today. I started to eat cornstarch when i was 16. At first it was a box every three weeks, but now I’m eating it through a straw and I’m up to a box a day. I know that this is abnormal and hurting me because I do not use the restroom as often as i should.

“I eat it even when I don’t want it, yet I cant stop. My mom eats it as well. Can you please help me and tell me what it is that i can do in order to stop because it’s messing up my teeth and I’m gaining weight?”

We strongly recommend to T.A. and others struggling with this problem that they be checked for iron deficiency and take any supplements that are prescribed or recommended.

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  1. Barbara
    Fayetteville NC

    I too, find the gin and raisin “cure” very helpful. The ABC store clerk said we needed to purchase the “top shelf” gin to get the beneficial juniper berry extract. I had “googled” gin so had brands to ask for. We bought the One in the green bottle. This really works for us. Not only does it relieve pain but found it gives me energy. This was a pleasant surprise since I have pernicious anemia.

  2. Dawn
    United States

    I too was addicted to chewing ice, so bad to the point that when we were out (we only have one car) I would be a nervous wreck thinking about how I was going to get my ice. I work at a hospital as a phlebotomist and the nurses pulled me aside and were looking me over, when I told them my hgb was a 7.6 they were infuriated that my doctor didn’t take me out of work.

    Anyway that very night, March 28, 2016 I was admitted to the er and was given two pints of blood. I went to a hematologist who did iron studies and I then found out that my iron was a THREE (the lowest an iron should be is 20) so they called me at home and told me to get to the office right away I needed iron infusions. I was told I would need six, so far I have had five and my last one is on Monday, or at least I hope it’s my last one.

    In a month’s time (May 16,2016 to be exact) I will have more iron studies done to see how well the infusions helped. I can honestly say I do feel better but only by about 80% but the ice cravings…… GONE!!!! The doctors are still trying to figure out why my iron is going so low and if I am losing blood somewhere, hemocults came back negative, maybe it’s just from heavy periods.

    But if you have ice cravings, feel like a worn out dish rag, tired all the time, pale, dizzy, shortness of breath, chest pain, always cold, losing your hair, finger nail beds are blue, have a lump in your throat that makes it excruciating to eat, please go see your doctor, these are all the symptoms I had. You don’t need all of those symptoms at all to have low iron, the biggest one that would be a give away I would say is the pica (the craving of non nutritional items, such as ice, clay, corn starch, dirt, chalk etc) if this fits your situation, make an appointment, this is a life threatening condition if not caught in time. God bless you all.

  3. dinah
    United States

    I have a craving for ice all the time. I am on dailysis also and it causes me to be over my fluid lev

  4. Kaz

    I have diabetes insipidus which causes me to crave ice

  5. Toby

    I eat ice like its I’m never going to have it again. Every day all day! I have had my levels checked and they say normal, but also when I go to donate blood or platelets I too get turned away saying my hemoglobin is too low. I just had a hysterectomy. I am tired all the time, shortness of breath. I started taking over the counter iron pills and vitamins, but have not seen any improvement at all. Please help.

    • Dawn

      Stay on top of those Dr.s Toby, it is very important that you do. In an eight hour shift I would chew 7 large (movie theater size) glasses of ice and then have more when I got home from work. I thought it was just a habit of chewing ice but it turns out I am severely anemic, my iron level went to a THREE the lowest an iron should be is a twenty. Sometimes you have no symptoms when it comes to anemia however don’t let it catch up to you, it’s horrible what you have to go through. Good luck to you Toby.

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