While chewing on ice may seem nice during the heat of the summer, craving ice regularly may indicate a more serious health issue. The tendency to chew on ice is a form of pica, which refers to a craving to eat something with no nutritional value.
Pica is often seen in children more than adults, but chewing on ice is an addiction that can last into adulthood. Pica is often related to having a nutritional deficiency. In the case of chewing ice, it may be a signal of an iron deficiency. To be diagnosed with pagophagia, which is the addiction to chewing ice, you must continue to chew ice for at least one month. People who are truly addicted to chewing ice will have addiction seeking behaviors, such as looking for ice-related products if they do not have ice available.
A craving for ice may relate to an iron deficiency, but there is a complex interaction between nutritional deficiencies and one's behavior. Often, supplementing the diet with iron can fix the problem. It is important to know, however, that iron levels that are too high or too low can result in significant health problems.
Pagophagia With Iron Deficiency
To show the relationship between chewing ice and anemia, one study assessed the behavior of 81 anemic patients, and found that pagophagia was in fact a common form of pica. Within the subjects of the study, the 16 percent of participants who experienced pagophagia found faster relief with iron supplementation than their blood tests may have indicated.
The symptoms of pica are hundreds of years old, yet there is a young community of doctors who are not fully aware of the links between craving non-nutritional substances, such as ice, and a nutritional deficiency.
Researchers recommend that patients who exhibit pica behaviors be checked for iron deficiency. Anemia results from a low level of red blood cells, which reduces the amount of oxygen that your body is able to deliver to your cells, which inhibits proper functioning of the body.
However, when the loss of red blood cells occurs slowly, your body can adapt, which may prevent you from noticing a difference in function until the levels of red blood cells become significantly low.
Risks of Chewing Ice
Chewing ice can cause damage both your teeth and your jaws. While the side effects of chewing ice are not as dangerous as having an addiction to chemicals, it still may cause damage, and the lack of treatment of anemia may lead to heart damage.
Some patients who have a severe case of pagophagia have gone to extreme measures to meet their needs of their addiction to ice. While chewing on crushed ice may not be harmful, biting down on a large ice cube can increase the potential for dental damage. This may result in chipped teeth, damage to the gums, enamel destruction, or damage to existing crowns or fillings.
The Link Between Ice and Anemia
Some symptoms of an iron deficiency include gastrointestinal discomforts. This may come in the form of a sore tongue, altered sense of taste, dry mouth, mouth sores, and difficulty swallowing. These symptoms can be alleviated by chewing on ice, which can reduce swelling and discomfort. However, research also shows that chewing on ice with an iron deficiency actually changes neurological processing to improve cognitive functioning.
Fatigue and exhaustion may result from anemia, which affect cognitive functioning. Researchers have believed that chewing ice can lead to changes in the brain's vascular system, increasing the amount of oxygen delivery, resulting in an increase in alertness and processing speed.
Researchers have been able to demonstrate that people with anemia who chew ice have improved processing speeds, with no effect on their healthy control subjects.
How Anemia Affects Health
People can experience iron deficiency, whether or not they have anemia. Iron deficiency can originate from a chronic blood loss, from events such as surgery or gastrointestinal polyps.
The first step in helping this is to find the origin of the blood loss. The loss of oxygen supply to cells can result in chronic fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeat.
Children may also be at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Children born prematurely may be chronically anemic and experience delayed growth and development, as well as an increased susceptibility to infections.
Important Blood Tests
It is important to check not only for iron deficiency, but also for iron overload. This can be done with a blood test called a serum ferritin test. If ferritin levels are low, this means iron levels are also low. An ideal range for serum ferritin is anywhere between 20 and 80 ng/ml of blood.
Other testing can be done to diagnosis iron deficiency, such as a complete blood count. When used in combination with a ferritin level test, a doctor may also order additional testing if there is evidence of an immune attack on your red blood cells or defects in clotting, enzymes, or hemoglobin.
How to Naturally Boost Your Iron Stores
It may be possible to alleviate iron deficiencies by altering your eating habits. Plant-based foods are rich in iron, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. Tomatoes, kale, yellow and red peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits, and Brussels sprouts are all high in vitamin C, which helps to improve the absorption of iron. Some other foods that include iron are beef, lentils, watermelon, oysters, sweet potatoes, tuna, veal, lamb, and dried beans.
Vitamin D and Your Iron Status
Studies have shown a relationship between a vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of anemia. Vitamin D plays an important role in the body's health, including depression, gastrointestinal health, brain health, certain types of cancers, and metabolic functioning. Normalizing your levels of vitamin D is an easy and effective way to benefit your overall health.