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Ice cravings: Why do they happen?

Ice cravings, or Pagophagia, is mainly caused due to iron deficiency. Read on to know more about this condition.

Do you find yourself drawn to the freezer, reaching out for an ice cube every now and then? You may crave to add ice cubes to a glass of water or cold drink, or even just simply chew on ice. But what may seem like a harmless snack might actually be a deeper health issue you may need to delve into. Moreover, if these ice cravings are frequent, it should be alarming for you.

Known as Pagophagia, the reason behind these ice cravings might be iron deficiency which needs to be dealt with medically. If you have been having ice cravings for more than a month, it is important to rule out medical or psychological causes behind this.

What do you mean by ice cravings?

Ice craving means you feel like chewing ice or any hard object that is not necessarily of any nutritional value. “Generally, this condition is related to iron deficiency,” says dietician Rutu Dhodapkar. A study, published in Cureus states that while it is not clear how ice cravings become a need of patients suffering from Pica, it can be seen that this activity makes them more alert. However, excessive ice chewing can have a lot of consequences, including electrolyte abnormalities and metabolic disorders, states the study.

What causes ice cravings?

There are several reasons you may crave ice. These include:

1. Pica

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines Pica as non-nutritive, non-food substances – eating, for at least one month. Pica is a disorder where a person has an unusual craving for any hard object like ice, clay, paper, paint chips, or hair. The cause of this is undefined. “It can be a psychological or obsessive-compulsive disorder mostly seen in paediatrics also it can be an underlying deficiency of any nutrient like iron or calcium,” says Dhodapkar.

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2. The need for a mental boost

It has been shown that chewing ice gives a person a mental boost. It is calming in nature as it also distracts us. “It can help in stress and anxiety relieving by giving a feeling of happiness,” says Dhodapkar. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania states that eating ice can help give anaemic patients a mental boost. The participants were given a cup of ice or room-temperature water. Anaemic patients who had water instead of ice showed slower reactions, those who had ice, performed as well as the healthy, non-anaemic participants.

3. Pregnancy

Ice cravings in pregnancy are common. Iron deficiency or anaemia is generally seen in females, mostly pregnant, with less intake of food as they have nausea, and vomiting, which can cause dehydration. In this condition, as ice has no flavour or smell, pregnant women may crave ice and still be a little hydrated. “Also, there is an increase in metabolic rate during pregnancy and this can lead to vasodilation or a condition where women feel very hot. This is why they crave cold things such as ice,” explains Dhodapkar.

Ice in a freezer tray
Ice cravings are common in pregnancy, however, excessive ice cravings must be checked. Image courtesy: Pexels

When to see a doctor about ice cravings?

If the above-mentioned symptoms are seen for more than a month, you must see a doctor. Your healthcare professional will ensure that all parameters for iron and calcium deficiency are checked.

You should be mindful that ice cravings may lead to excessive ice chewing as well. This chewing process can also lead to tooth sensitivity. If this develops, visit a dentist or this process can have chipped teeth or cracked. This process can even damage your tooth enamel.

How to stop ice cravings?

After a visit to the doctor, there are a few things that you can do to reduce your ice cravings. However, going to the doctor to determine the exact cause is a must as ice cravings are likely to continue till all deficiencies are detected and solved.

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We can try to reduce it by consciously working on healthier options such as consuming iron supplements and calcium supplements, prescribed by the doctor. That can help you to recover fast.

The psychological aspect also needs to be looked into. So, visit a psychologist if the need arises. Nurturing a hobby or interest can also divert the thought of ice cravings.

Replacing the ice with something else may help too. Instead of ice, you can start with cold popsicles, made with lemon juice or kokum juice. This is great in pregnancy as this can reduce nausea. Chewing on frozen apple pieces or carrot pieces can also give some nutrition instead of only ice, or any hard object.

Ice cubes
Excessive ice cravings can also lead to destruction of tooth enamel. Image courtesy: Pexels

Overconsumption of ice or unwanted objects like clay or dirt may cause upset stomach and bloating, stomach pain which needs to be addressed as per consumption and symptoms. “If diarrhoea persists, then be on a soft diet with plenty of different options. If bloating persists then can try cumin water or caraway water. In case of pregnancy can give cumin water or fennel water,” says Dhodapkar.

Summary

Ice cravings might not be as normal as we think. It is important to go to the doctor if your cravings have persisted beyond a month. Iron deficiency and pregnancy can be some of the reasons for this condition.

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