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. RaeA
    Phila
    Reply

    I’ve been severely anemic for well over 30yrs. It started when I had my daughter at 18. My OBGYN told me that because at 18 my body was still developing, having a child took a lot out of me and took a toll on my system. I have had heavy cycles as well and it wasn’t until I was well into my 30’s that I realized how much I craved ice and it was habitual to say the least. However, not just any ice will do, it has to be crushed or shaved. I don’t like nor will I eat cubes although if I can’t get crushed or shaved, I will place cubes into a plastic bag and crush them with a hammer. It’s like a high when I eat it and I just can’t stop. I’ve been put on iron and have to take it daily which as long as I take it as prescribed, I don’t have any cravings but have found that once I feel better, I slack off of the iron and it starts all over.

  2. cpmt
    Reply

    I had a friend that had craving for garlic, her parents took her to her doctors. After several blood test they did find out she was anemic. TS I am sorry you had to suffer so much, parents at that time were very ignorant and superstitious DON’T blame them, it was the time and the puritanism views, traditions and cultural poor knowledge of things (every where) some ignorant parents who didn’t know better made horrible mistakes, not many have a ‘thinking open view’ of something medical could be the problem. Thank God we know more today.

  3. paul43
    Reply

    Tell me more please.

  4. TS
    Reply

    I wish somebody had told my parents this 40 years ago. At age 10, I constantly craved ice, just like the writer! I was an early menstruator, starting at the very young age of 10. My parents couldn’t figure out why I crunched ice. Finally, they diagnosed it themselves…they decided this was a suppressed sexual craving. Don’t ask me where that came from, probably their own puritanical church upbringings, because I certainly didn’t have any such cravings; I barely knew the facts of life.
    There followed five years of hell, when my parents constantly whispered about me, looked at me with concern but disgust, and openly told me, “there is something wrong with you.” With the help of a therapist, I finally stopped hating myself, but had no idea what caused the ice cravings.
    They finally disappeared. I later read this same diagnosis, that it was more than likely caused by a severe anemic deficiency. “Sexual craving.” Geesh, the harm people do their children!

  5. DG
    Reply

    I used to chew ice even though I knew it was bad for teeth. I had heavy periods. Right after I had a hysterectomy I realized I long longer wanted to chew ice. In fact I couldn’t stand chewing ice. It was immediate. I figured it out that the heavy periods may have caused low iron.

  6. C.H.
    Reply

    I craved ice severely for over a year. I was going to an acupuncture/herbalist at the time. Also my periods were really heavy with my blood count an 8. I boiled fresh beats and ate them and drank the juice. It raised my iron levels quickly.
    I took magnesium for almost a year and still craved ice, every day all day long. It was horrible. Then finally I was told to take 1 potassium gluconate 500 mg 2 times a week with the magnesium. Thankfully adding the potassium cured my cravings totally after 3 weeks!

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