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. Nurse W

    I too am severly anemic. I have heavy periods and at first didn’t understand why I took on this crazy addiction for ice. I thought that was an old wives tale. But I crave it like a drug addict craves heroin. If I can’t get it the right consistency I go nuts! I have to have it in the skinny cubes…the chewing and crushing is the best part…the part I am addicted to. I know it is ruining my back teeth because they are becoming so sensitive. I wish I could stop but my hemoglobin is rarely over 7.0…I feel so tired all the time–but not tired enough to not go get ice haha

  2. janita

    At the start #1 pregnancy I chewed ice when the baby was born it stopped, I did this with all 5 children, for the last 6yrs I have to have a bag of ice in the freezer, I smash it up and chew it, I to buy soft drinks and order extra ice, just for the ice, I have had restless legs for yrs and now have a bowel problem. Which I do think is from the ice chewing.
    My periods have been heavy for the last 2yrs which I thought was menopause… I’m grateful for the above stories, I’m not the only one chewing ice, but its not a good thing, I have stopped for 3 days and my mouth waters just thinking of it.

    • Ray
      Baltimore, MD

      I read your post about the ice chewing. I too was chewing ice, for half the year during 2014. I was also very tired all the time. My doctor became very concerned when he discovered how anemic I was in the beginning of July. I was urged to stay home from work until tests could be done as I was also having stomach issues. I didn’t listen and I went to work anyway.

      I could not complete the week and ended up in the emergency room. I am male so my blood loss was not caused by a period. The docs put the blood loss and the stomach issues together and decided on an immediate colonoscopy. Stage 2 colon cancer found! Surgery two days later. 6 months later no more cancer and no more chewing of ice. Don’t ignore the stomach issues!!!

  3. kim

    I have the same problem as all the above. I have not been to a doctor since my daughter has been born (she is almost 16) because I have not had the money or insurance. I have been anemic before – so I kind of thought that was the problem. I cannot take iron as it makes me very sick. Any suggestions (on over the counter or all natural) as what I can do to raise my blood count? I do NOT like beets, or liver.

  4. Sheri G.

    Omg I just looked up Iron Defeciency because I was just tested for it and my level is very low. I am 53 and my menstral cycles have just been awful. Huge blood losses each time. Well when I just looked it up I was amazed to see about the chewing ice cravings. I have been doing this for months now and didn’t have a clue why. I am constantly chewing on ice it has really developed into a craving. I was so amazed that all of this was tied together.

  5. Michele

    I have been craving ice for about 3 years now. I know this is due to an iron deficiency caused by heavy periods, but when taking iron supplements I find myself getting constipated. I was wondering if there was an alternative measure I could try.

    • The People's Pharmacy

      Try ferrous glycinate or iron polysaccharide as a supplement. They are said to be less likely to cause constipation.

    • Chetina
      United States

      I to suffer from the ice craving and was told by my doctor to take iron supplements, but I haven’t taken them because of constipation. My iron level was at 6 the last time it were checked. If you eat liver this could help you.

  6. RaeA

    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.

  7. cpmt

    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.

  8. paul43

    Tell me more please.

  9. TS

    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!

  10. DG

    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.

  11. C.H.

    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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