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.