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. Aby

    I am glad to know i’m not alone. This finally makes sense! Last time I got fierce when my roommate threw out my ice cubes. Thanks a lot! !!

  2. CLA

    So, I have been anemic for a while. I am 47 years of age. I chew ice constantly and it annoys my husband. I tried iron supplements, BUT (no pun intended) my stomach bloated and yes I was constipated. I am exhausted and out of breath. I even tried the Ferrous Sequels that my doctor recommended to help with absorption. It did not work so I stopped and look as if I am pregnant. I started to have dark under eye circles and really bad bruising that I know is a contributing factor. I had a Hysterectomy in 2001 and am not going through Menopause yet. My doctor told me that my next step is going to a Hematologist. I have damaged my teeth as a result of the need for chewing ice. I am truly sorry to see so many people are going through the same thing.

  3. TLY
    Los Angeles, CA

    I have severe, chronic anemia due to Gastric Bypass surgery. I don’t absorb all the vitamins/minerals in food or in vitamin form. I’ve had restless legs for many years but the anemia really kicks it into high gear. Along with the crushed ice, I also crave lightly salted rice cakes. During the anemia spells, that’s about all I eat. I’ve had numerous blood transfusions, iron infusions, even injections of Procrit. My Hemotologist said Procrit is normally for cancer patients. As I write this, I’m watching the clock as I have an appointment to get a new type of iron infusion that works better & faster than the previous kind.

  4. MK

    I’m 55 years old, and I have been diagnosed with chronic anemia. I haven’t had a period in over a year, so I guess I’m going through menopause. However, I crave ice also. I was taking iron supplements but stopped, now I have to start taking them again. I chew ice cube, but loves it shaved, so much so that I actually bought an ice shaver so that I can shave it. My cravings are so strong that I actually fantasize of eating snow, just like someone on here said that they do also. And, just like they do, whenever I see snow on TV, all I can think about is eating it with a spoon. I too, live in a warm climate where it doesn’t snow, and I pray for snow, every year. We have snow ball stands everywhere, but I don’t think about the flavors, just the shaved ice. I thought I was the only one that suffers from this, but I see that many more do too. That’s a relief in a way, to know that I am not alone, and that I’m not just some crazy ice craver. Lol.

  5. April

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Finally this is starting to make sense!!

  6. Kristina

    Wow! This is crazy reading all your stories. I craved ice with all 3 of my pregnancies, and never took prenatal vitamins because they gave me headaches. My OB said I was fine as long as I ate properly, and never thought anything of it. But I stopped craving the ice after each child was born. But the past year or so, I HAVE to have my ice. I have my tumbler cup with me absolutely everywhere I go. Before I leave the house, I fill it with the skinny long cubes and run some water over it so it starts to break down so it’s easier to chew. All day long. I’m 43 and haven’t had my period in a month, which I’m assuming i’m starting menopause or perimenopausal, since I’m usually regular and regular flows, but for the past 2 years my cycles have been getting a little wacky. My Mother, recently was diagnosed with hereditary hemochromatosis, which is basically an iron overload. Her Dr said that my sister and I should be tested for it as well. I’m thinking with my ice craving, which can be a symptom of anemia, and the hereditary hemochromatosis, I should even out. ha ha.

    • The People's Pharmacy

      Kristina, you should get tested. The hemochromatosis might be throwing your system out of kilter and contributing to the problem.

  7. ND

    For me two things started at nearly the same time-craving ice and heavy period flow. I talked to my doctor about the flow issue since that was new for me and she did a sonogram and found fruit sized fibroids. The benign muscle masses pressing on my uterus were causing this flow issue and the resulting chaos in my body from rapid blood loss each month. I will be having surgery to have them removed. I will kinda miss the ice.

  8. Critasha

    I’ve been anemic for quite sometime, I was having heavy long periods, then break through bleeding on birth control, I was diagnosed with pcod, uterine fibroids, I was given iron supplements that wasn’t helping, I often craved for shaved ice, but after having chest pain I thought was a heart attack I was rushed to the E.R after lab work the Dr. Informed me I was in need of a blood transfusion immediately. After the transfusion, I lost my cravings for ice for about a year, but it picked up again almost over a year. I was doing iron transfusions to keep my anemia under control only to have it come back worse. I buy bags of ice which I’m going through within 2days. When I awake in the A.M I eat it through out the day and through the night. My daughters are so irritated by it.

    I have heart palpitations, dizziness, chest pain sometimes, headache, weakness, I make appointments to see my DR. But I never make it due to no transportation, my gums are constantly bleeding while brushing, I’ve been eating kale,broccoli, spinach, taking black strap molasses and none of it helps anymore. I have quite a few underlying medical problems that I have had for a long time & my DR. Doesn’t address them which will help with the bleeding.

  9. Tebogo
    Cape Town

    As I’m reading this I am busy eating my crushed ice. When I don’t eat them is like I am having withdrawal symptoms and then I rush to the fridge to get it. My daughters are disgusted by this but I cant help it. I know I have iron deficiency and I was on treatment for six months and then I stopped. I decided to take it upon myself to start again. Its been a week since I started and I realised my craving for ice is subsiding bit by bit. But hey I’m happy I am not the only one …

  10. joanna

    I crave ice worse then a crack head craves crack. I gotta have it as soon as i wake up. The ice machine cant keep up so i buy bagged ice. I don’t care if its cub, crushed, or shaved. I will eat it anyway i can get it. About ten pounds a day. I also crave the frost. I do feel tired and my whole body aches but haven’t had a period in over 7 months. I have given blood 2 times and they haven’t said anything about my blood count being low. I have also been having some stomach issues and weight loss. Not sure what the problem is but have no insurance or money to go to the doctor.o

  11. PG

    I am anemic, and when I don’t take my iron supplement, I crave ice. I crave it crushed and shave mostly, but will chew cubes, etc. I even fantasize about eating snow. I live in a warm climate, and when I see other places on the tube that has lots of snow, all I can think about is eating it. That’s how strong my cravings are. We have lots of snowball stands, but I don’t care about the flavors, just the shaved ice. I haven’t been taking the iron supplements for a while, and the cravings have returned, so I guess I will have to visit my doctor again, and start with the supplements again.

  12. EM

    I never made the ice connection. I only just realized I was Anemic when I got really weak on vacation during an extremely heavy period. I nearly passed out and the weakness lingered. I bought iron supplements and noticed modest improvement each day. My daughter gets so aggravated at me for chewing ice but I couldn’t control myself. Boy is she relieved that this addiction may soon subside.

    • nitu

      I have the same craving and it just started , what did you buy over the counter so I can get some too ?

  13. Josephine D.

    My addiction to ice seemed funny at the beginning but when I had no control over the cravings I became worried. Still I did nothing much to deal with the cravings. I went to my doctor for heavy periods, he did some blood work and put me on iron supplements. Since taking the supplements the ice addiction has stopped. I was constantly tired, my feet ached and were restless, my eyesight was so blurry that I went to the optician but my sight was fine. I’m only now realizing that all these were as a result of low blood count. Omg! I also know of many other women who has the same problem and I’m gonna be talking to them about all this information I’ve received on here.

  14. Chiquita

    Your comments have really made me feel hopeful about my addiction to chewing ice! I work in the medical field so I know the damage it can cause but how do you resist your body’s craving?? It’s so hard, and I know it’s harming me because I’m constantly out of breathe, weak, tired and my vision has been blurred lately. I’ve just got a prescription for iron so hopefully this works!!

    • CAROL

      I am hopeful after reading your comments on ice chewing. I also have restless leg syndrome and pain from nerve damage which also causes my legs to twitch and jerk. I hear from my doctor that my blood count is normal!! I have hypothyroidism. I also am short of breath and I have no energy. I plan my day in my head but can’t seem to accomplish much. Is the iron a prescription or can it be purchased OTC? Maybe you don’t know. I just called my doctor last week complaining of fatigue. I like my doctor and she listens to my concerns.

  15. 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

    • Shannon

      I know EXACTLY what you mean. I’ve gotten so bad that I cleaned out the bottom of my freezer and pour water on it. Then I let it freeze and then break it up and eat it (I don’t like the big ice cubes, I’d rather have a flatter piece). I also crave the smell if the freezer when the motor is running. I had this same thing when I was pregnant with my daughter, 13 years ago. I am in no way pregnant now, so I’m not sure what’s going on or causing this, all of a sudden, craving. I just gave blood a month ago and everything was normal?? I also have heavy periods and HORRIBLE restless legs (been dealing with those for 20 years). It all seems relative.

  16. 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!!!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. paul43

    Tell me more please.

  23. 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!

  24. 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.

  25. 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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