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Why Do I Crave Ice? Top Three Reasons!

Last updated on April 20, 2021

Eating Enlightenment
Eating Enlightenment

Do you crave ice?

That is a very common question. For many people, it’s just part of being human and having an innate need to stay cool on a hot day.

But for others, craving ice can become obsessive and even turn into an addiction.

Why do people crave ice? There are three main reasons why this might be the case:

  1. Anemia
  2. Pregnancy
  3. Pica Syndrome

Today we’re going to talk about what causes these cravings so that you can get back in control!  

We’ll also talk about whether eating ice is bad for you and how to get rid of ice cravings.

What Does Craving Ice Mean?

1 – Anemia: Lack Of Iron In Your Blood

normal red blood cell versus anemia

Back in college I had been a strict vegetarian for two years. I didn’t eat any meat and one of my only proteins was chipotle-flavored tofu sausages.

During this time I experienced chronic fatigue but I never knew why. Every day when it came to eating, all I could think about was whether the food would contain calories or have meat. This type of thinking got so bad it interfered with my social life and mental health.

Besides the meat restriction, I also restricted caloric intake because I was trying to conrol my weight. 

One day at the doctor’s office, he invited me to take a blood test without asking me about what I ate. Since he didn’t pry about my eating habits I went and took the blood test.

That’s when I found out about my blood condition called Anemia.

Anemia is a condition which means my body didn’t have enough iron.

As soon as the doctor read the test results he asked me, ‘Do you crave ice?’

I remember not understanding why the doctor was asking about my ice chewing habits. What did my habit of ice crunching have to do with anything related to my blood and Anemia?

The doctor told me Anemia, or lack of iron, was the top cause of craving ice. Since I was craving ice and because my blood iron levels were low, he put the pieces together.

I’ll tell you more about how to stop craving later on in this article. For now we’re just talking about why you crave ice.

And the answer to that question, most likely, is that you’re anemic. Your blood doesn’t have enough iron.

Please note I’ll use these both of terms, ‘anemia’ and ‘low iron levels’ or ‘low iron deficiency’, because they mean the same thing.

What Causes Your Blood To Have Low Iron Deficiency Anemia?

What causes iron deficiency anemia, which is the most common type of anemia? Here are a few of the major causes:

  • Not enough nutritious foods
  • Diets
  • Restrictive eating
  • Coffee
  • Regular exercise
  • Menstrual cycles

Not enough nutritious foods

The most common cause of low iron deficiency anemia levels is not eating nutritious foods each day.

You don’t need to be super healthy, but you do need to have at least some fruits and vegetables each day. 

Unfortunately many people lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. This is a major cause of low iron blood levels, because fruits and vegetables like apples and spinach have high iron content.

Diets

Another reason people have low iron levels is because they always go on crash diets. 

Crash diets may appear to be quick weight loss solutions. But the problem is that they don’t provide you with all the nutrients your body needs.

Restrictive eating

Of course many people are NOT ‘officially’ on a diet but they still may have restrictive eating rules. For example, one patient of mine was very picky about what they ate.

I was able to help this patient understand their restrictive dieting was causing them to crave ice and feel fatigued.

It was difficult getting this particular client to eat more carbs. But they did, and they noticed their brain fog decreased once they started eating more rice!

Coffee

Plus, this client of mine was downing cup after cup of caffeinated tea and coffee!

I do think black coffee is perfectly fine for your health and can be beneficial. But too much coffee and tea can reduce iron absorption as well!

Regular exercise

This client was also exercising and working up a sweat after work! Boy oh boy!

She’d hardly eat any food throughout the day and then she’d push herself to get on the treadmill after work. 

But if you are pushing yourself while exercising, then your iron levels may be low. 

This is partly because the body increases in blood production during hard exercise. Plus, iron gets released through perspiration.

And this is exacerbated if you aren’t eating enough nutritious foods.

In fact, athletes and women who work out on a regular basis also need to know they are at risk for iron deficiency.  Regular workouts increase the need for iron. 

Menstruation

Finally, there’s one major reason behind iron deficiency anemia which we haven’t talked about – menstruation.

Because excessive blood loss can also affect the amount of iron stored in the human body.

Did you know heavy menstrual periods over several months could lead to iron deficiency?  

Women need to be careful about iron intake!

2 – Pregnancy

This might sound strange because when you’re pregnant you don’t have menstrual cycles.

Nonetheless pregnant women are more susceptible to becoming iron deficient and getting anemia.

If you aren’t bleeding and getting low on iron, then how does pregnancy contribute to craving ice?

Turns out the top two causes of ice cravings – #1 anemia and #2 pregnancy – are really two sides of the same iron deficiency anemia coin.

You lack iron in your blood!

Why? Well, when you’re pregnant you’re eating for two people so your iron levels should go up to compensate!

It’s possible you were scraping by without enough iron before pregnancy. But now your increased need for iron has exposed you to low blood iron levels!

Remember, it’s low iron levels that are the main culprit behind ice cravings!

Plus, often women experience morning sickness where they feel sick and vomit.

Vomiting can easily contribute to low iron because when you vomit you lose nutrients too.

If you are pregnant then morning sickness could cause your blood iron levels to become too low. Ice cravings could be the natural result.

There also may be an association with low levels of serotonin during the first trimester or hormonal fluctuations too. Both of these situations can affect brain chemistry that regulates appetite sensations.

Why Does Iron Deficiency Anemia Lead To Craving Ice?

For starters, if you doubt low iron levels contribute to ice cravings, then check out this medically reviewed article.

In this study, 81 people suffering from anemia got interviewed about ice cravings. 13 patients or 16% had a craving for ice! Those rates of ice cravings are far higher than normal!

The real million dollar question is why. Why do people with iron deficiency crave ice?

Again, we know low iron levels relate to ice cravings. But scientists aren’t 100% certain why low iron levels cause people to eat ice like it’s 100 degrees outside and they’re boiling!

Despite not knowing exactly why, there is a theory on why lacking iron causes people to want ice!

The theory hypothesizes that biting down on ice causes a temporary burst of clear thinking!

See this study:

The researchers in this study gave participants with low iron levels a math test. Then they had some people with low iron levels chew on ice. The others didn’t get any ice.

Then they had everybody retake the math test. On average, the people who got some ice to chew did better on the test retake than people who didn’t chew any ice.

Some scientists think the higher scores are because the shocking cold from the ice alerts people.

Other scientists think chewing ice causes a spike of oxygen to release in the brain, and that it’s this extra oxygen that causes people with Anemia to think more clearly.

Whether it’s the cold or extra oxygen, scientists have studied this effect in detail!

And some scientists do believe that eating ice, such as in cases of Pagophagia, improves neuropsychological processing speed.  

(If you aren’t sure what Pagophagia means don’t worry, we’ll cover that next!)

Who knew your cravings for ice are most likely caused by lacking iron in your red blood cells!

3 – Pica Syndrome

The last but not as a common reason people crave ice is because of an eating disorder called Pica Syndrome.

Pica Syndrome is where you compulsively eat nonfood items like ice. But not just ice, also things like paper or dirt.

There’s even a reported form of Pica Syndrome called Pagophagia. This is sometimes also called ‘Ice Pica’.

Pagophagia, or Ice Pica, is where somebody craves water-based nonfood items such as snow, ice cubes, or iced water.

The important thing is realizing that all forms of Pica, including Pagophagia and Ice Pica, are not caused by a physical deficiency like low iron.

Instead, all forms of Pica Syndrome are mental disorders.

Most people who develop these conditions usually start in childhood. Both of these disorders also can develop during pregnancy.  Also these conditions often happen with other conditions like autism or ADHD.

Again, remember that the primary cause of ice cravings is lack of iron in your red blood cells. That’s the main emphasis of this article!

I wouldn’t worry too much about Pica or Pagophagia if I were you. Yet if you find yourself compulsively eating all forms of ice or craving nonfood items like dirt, then do talk with your doctor 🙂

Now that we’ve covered the three main causes of craving ice, let’s switch gears and discuss …

Is Eating Ice Bad For You?

Many people often overestimate the effects of consuming large quantities of ice. Just a modest amount is safe and does not cause detrimental reactions to the body.

But if you are constantly craving and chewing on ice cubes, then your ice desires could be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Most likely anemia or low iron levels, but you may also have some form of Pica too, although that’s less likely.

If you do compulsively chew ice whether because of Pica or iron deficiency, then you can have negative effects such as:

  • Damage to the enamel of your teeth
  • Brain freezes
  • Painful teeth
  • More cavities

But the real danger here isn’t ice but rather the health consequences  caused by Anemia.

If you have Anemia you could be a risk of heart attack, stroke or even death.

It’s vital to get your iron levels checked out regularly if you crave ice, because this is one of those things that can become a long-term problem!

Is Eating Ice A Sign Of Depression?

Eating ice is not a sign of depression. There are no medically reviewed studies where wanting to eat ice is linked to depression.

Yet if you have Pica, then it’s likely there are mental health issues going on. Depression might be one of the issues related to Pica.

If you have anemia then you are going to have low energy and lots of fatigue. This could seem like depression. Sometimes people with iron deficiency have low energy and think they feel depressed – but in reality they just lack iron!

For me, I definitely had a mixture of anemia and depression which caused my fatigue and brain fog. Yet after I quit being vegetarian and started to get more iron in my system, then I did feel better.

And speaking about getting more iron in your system, let’s wrap up this discussion!

Below are some practical steps you can take on your own to get rid of ice cravings!

How Do You Get Rid of Ice Cravings?

To get more iron in your bloodstream, try some of these holistic strategies:

  • Eat more leafy greens and eggs
  • Try fermented foods like yogurt, miso soup or tempeh; these are good sources of iron as well as other nutrients!
  • Add leafy greens into your diet including kale, chard, and spinach
  • Get lots more fruits and veggies, especially the ones with Vitamin C
  • Reduce your coffee and tea consumption
  • Eating a portion of fish, poultry, or meat every day to help make cravings for ice less likely
  • Try 3 to 4 servings of red meat every week. I know red meat isn’t the healthiest per se, but it does have a lot of iron!

Nothing beats a healthy balanced diet. At the end of the day eating a variety of wholesome nutritious foods is best.

Because for most people who crave ice, you just need to increase your iron food intake.

Iron Supplements

iron supplement

I know that besides incorporating meat into my diet, I also started taking iron supplement pills.

I normally don’t recommend pills because I believe in holistic health, not shortcuts. However, with anemia you can increase your blood iron levels dramatically by taking iron supplements each day.

Unfortunately I don’t exactly remember the iron supplements I took all those years ago. But I do remember getting your standard over the counter iron supplement! Nothing special!

Here’s a good iron gummy bear supplement with over 6000 reviews on Amazon!

Of course you don’t need iron supplements to boost your iron levels. 

There are plenty of holistic and dietary strategies too as mentioned above!

And for people who crave ice because they have Pica you should go to counseling to help your cravings.

For those who may need some type of focused counseling or treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be very helpful with this type of disorder. CBT is not just about food, though: it also helps with depression which often goes hand-in-hand with pica.

For more info on CBT, read my intro to CBT article here.

Why Do I Crave Ice Conclusion:

Sometimes craving ice is normal. But sometimes it becomes an obsessive habit that needs treatment such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Fortunately if you just need more iron in your blood it’s a pretty quick fix.

Let me know how it goes in the comments and good luck!

Eating Enlightenment
Eating Enlightenment

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