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Ice Addiction Leads to Hospitalization

A craving for unusual foods such as an ice addiction could be a warning of an underlying medical problem like anemia or zinc deficiency.

When a reader shares a story about a common problem, sometimes it saves someone else’s life. That is what happened when readers wrote about their compulsion to chew on ice, like an ice addiction.

Ice Craving Signaled Serious Anemia:

Q. I read in your column about a person who craved ice. A couple of years ago I had the same habit, and had to have ice cubes constantly. Even on trips, my son would have to stop at restaurants, gas stations or anywhere else to get me large containers of ice cubes.

The doctors I consulted could not tell me why I was craving ice. But I got weaker and weaker. I finally went to my doctor who said I looked like a ghost. He ordered blood tests and found I was anemic. I was taken in a wheelchair from the lab to the hospital and given a transfusion. I’ve had no craving for ice since that time. Perhaps your reader should have a blood test.

A. Thanks for sharing your story. When people develop unusual cravings they should always be tested for anemia or zinc deficiency. We have heard of other cases where replenishing iron or zinc vanquishes the compulsion to eat ice.

Ice Addiction as a Symptom of Colon Cancer:

Sometimes a craving for something that is not food (doctors call this “pica”) can indicate an even more serious medical problem.

We received this message years ago:

“In 2001, I had a very strong urge to chew on ice. After reading in your column that this could be a sign of anemia, I told my doctor about it.

“The blood work showed anemia and I was advised to get a colonoscopy. This test showed cancer in the colon.

“I had surgery and received six months of chemo. The operation removed 10 inches of my colon. Testing the lymph nodes showed the cancer had spread to three out of 15 tested.

“I wouldn’t have mentioned the craving for ice cubes had I not read about it in your column. I thank you for that timely article. I have been cancer free for these past seven years.”

Pre-Surgery Blood Test Explained Ice Addiction:

Another person reported this experience:

“I also used to crave crushed ice, eating it daily, summer and winter, many pounds of it on a weekly basis, I was scheduled for surgery. During the testing prior to surgery, they discovered that my blood count was so low that I needed a transfusion before I could have the surgery.

“I checked into the hospital and ate crushed ice all during the first day. That night I was given a blood transfusion and immediately I stopped craving ice. I have not eaten it since, and that was more than 20 years ago.”

Frequent blood donors may develop anemia as a consequence. A recent study found that as iron status deteriorated, pica symptoms increased (Chansky et al, Transfusion, April 2017). Conversely, treating the iron deficiency made pica disappear.

People Craving Cornstarch:

Many people also report cornstarch cravings. You will find dozens of amazing stories by going to this link.

Here is just one example:

“I never thought that eating cornstarch was a problem until I started eating whole boxes myself within just 2 or 3 days. Originally, I began eating it at 16 when I was pregnant with my first child. Family members would also eat it often, which made it hard for me to stop.

“I’m 23 years old, about to be 24, and I feel like this has become an issue and I need help. My weight is up and down and I know my iron is low. My mate doesn’t like it; he thinks I should be able to stop easily. I find myself lying to my family about quitting. I don’t have a favorite brand, any cornstarch will do just to take the craving away.

“Often I will eat ice to take the place of starch, but lately I’ve been eating both together. I dip my fingers or pour mounds in my hands and lick it. Sometimes I’ve even eaten it through a straw. I’ve tried chalk as a replacement but it’s not as good at the starch. Help me please and thank you.”

Raw Rice Cravings:

Even though we said pica is a craving for something that is not food, sometimes food cravings qualify as well. Obviously, cornstarch is a food even though normally we don’t eat it unless it has been cooked. The same holds true for rice. Clinicians in Birmingham, AL, reported two cases of women eating quantities of raw Basmati rice (Barton et al, Case Reports in Medicine, online Jan. 4, 2016). Both women were severely anemic, and correcting the anemia extinguished the rice craving.

If you know anyone with an ice addiction or  cravings for ice, or cornstarch or even foods like carrots, please encourage that person to visit our website, read these stories and then be checked for an iron or zinc deficiency.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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