Pica, described as an intense desire to eat non-food substances, typically affects children and people with developmental disabilities. However, a common ice pica known as pagophagia, affects a wider segment of the population. For many people, ice munching amounts to nothing more than a harmless pastime, but it might indicate a serious problem. If you are concerned about excessive ice consumption, contact your physician to determine the underlying cause and long-term consequences.
Ice eating often points to underlying iron deficiency anemia, although diagnosis may prove difficult. According to Dr. Jerry Spivak, in an article for the National Anemia Action Council, patients sometimes hesitate to divulge their ice cravings during a routine medical exam. The exact correlation between pagophagia and anemia is still unknown. Research suggests ice may soothe the discomfort of tongue inflammation in patients with anemia.
Ice chips can provide nausea relief for a variety of medical conditions, such as influenza, motion sickness, pregnancy, food poisoning and cancer. Ice also helps prevent dehydration when vomiting or diarrhea accompanies nausea. Try using flavored ice cubes made from your favorite non-acidic beverage. For nausea relief, let the ice melt in your mouth rather than chewing it.
Some dieters turn to eating ice cubes between meals as a non-calorie snack to satisfy hunger. Savvy marketers have taken things a step further by developing the "ice cube diet." Specially formulated ice cubes contain an herbal supplement purported to be an appetite suppressant. The company’s website recommends dieters eat one lemon-flavored cube to curb hunger cravings for an entire day. Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, says no evidence exists to support the effectiveness or safety of the ice cube diet product.
Habit or Obsession
Perhaps you simply eat ice to quench your thirst on a warm day or to relieve stress at work. Eating ice, like other habits, such as nail biting, can become an obsession. If eating ice takes up an increasing amount of time and hinders your ability to perform daily tasks, simple behavior modification may help. Try to alleviate stressful situations and substitute sugarless chewing gum for ice. If you feel you can no longer control your ice cravings, seek the help of a health care professional.
Even occasional ice eating can do serious harm to your teeth and gums. Repeated chewing of any hard substance creates minute fissures in tooth enamel. Over time, the small cracks become more pronounced and frequently lead to dental problems later in life. Eating ice can literally break teeth and damage expensive dental work like braces, crowns and fillings. It may also cause or exacerbate tooth sensitivity.