On a hot summer day, or when you’re experiencing a sore throat, the soothing sensation of a cool ice cube may be the ideal remedy. It can also be a great way to maintain hydration when an illness or injury is preventing a sufficient intake of fluids. However, ice cubes also carry the risk of choking, and an unusual craving for ice chips can indicate an underlying health condition. So, is eating ice bad or good for you?
Ice is essentially frozen water and holds no added nutritional value. That being said, the body requires at least eight 8-oz. servings of water daily for proper functioning. Ice chips can contribute to your overall fluid intake, although in small amounts.
If you find that you’re relying on ice to quench an insatiable thirst, you may have the medical condition known as pagophagia. This compulsive need to chew and eat ice is seen with eating disorders and nutritional deficiencies. Complications of the disorder also include dental problems.
Are there any proven health benefits of eating ice? We’ll take a closer look at this and the various side effects of eating ice, as well as share some healthy tips for how to stop eating ice.
In This Article:
Craving Ice: Why Do People Eat It?
People may chew ice for a variety of reasons:
1. Iron deficiency: On average, an adult should consume between eight to 18 mg of iron per day in their diets. Several studies have shown that people who consume the necessary amounts of iron per day are less likely to chew ice. In fact, pagophagia has been linked with iron deficiency.
For example, the texture from ice may reduce tongue inflammation, which is a symptom of low iron. Research shows that when iron supplements are used to treat anemia, pagophagia disappears, with little chance of reoccurrence.
A study on the link between pagophagia and iron deficiency anemia focused on a group of 81 patients with the iron-based anemia condition. In the 13 participants with pagophagia symptoms, oral iron was found to successfully curb the ice craving.
Further research into the development of pagophagia is required; however, this study suggests that iron deficiency has a role in the condition.
2. Weight loss: In an effort to lose weight quickly, some people eat ice to prevent themselves from eating other foods. Some people also eat ice in between meals as an appetite suppressant—although there is no evidence that shows this will help with weight loss.
Experts believe the body burns a very small amount of calories upon consuming ice or ice-cold beverages to bring them up to a comfortable temperature. However, the effects on weight loss are negligible.
3. Habits/obsession:People who are bored, or constantly crave something to chew on, may chomp on ice cubes. This can eventually turn into an obsession.
4. Nausea: For some people, chewing ice may provide a cooling sensation to relieve nausea. Sucking on ice chips may help to settle an upset stomach while keeping you hydrated. This method is often used to manage nausea from motion sickness, influenza, cancer, and basic food poisoning, and might also alleviate headaches accompanying nausea.
5. Eating ice while pregnant: Is eating ice bad for you while pregnant? Chewing or sucking on ice chips may also be a favorable choice for the estimated 75% of pregnant women with morning sickness who cannot keep down fluids. Heartburn and overheating are additional pregnancy symptoms that may benefit from ice.
Ice was the main choice of participants in a study of pica behavior among Mexican-born pregnant women. While the study focused on low-income women living in both Mexico and southern California, only those living in the States recorded data as Mexican participants did not have access to ready-made ice.
The reasons given for ingesting ice included quenching thirst, cooling internal and external temperatures, medicinal purposes, as well as enjoyment of its texture.
Side Effects of Eating Ice
Can eating too much ice make you sick? Well, there are many reasons why eating ice is bad for you. Regularly chewing on ice can cause harm to your dental health, or lead to more serious issues:
1. Eating ice causes severe damage to teeth and gums: By constantly chewing on ice, you’re putting pressure on your teeth and you risk wearing down the enamel, the thin outer coating that protects the delicate internal tissue. This could lead to your teeth cracking or chipping, and result in cavities. Dental work such as crowns and fillings may also be damaged by crunching on ice.
Your teeth can also become weak and extremely sensitive to cold or hot foods and drinks. Furthermore, if you happen to chomp down on a particularly sharp piece of ice, you will risk puncturing your gums and triggering an infection.
2. Nutritional issues: People who eat ice as a method to lose weight may not be getting their daily nutrients and they can end up sick or malnourished.
3. Socially unacceptable: Constantly chomping down on ice may irritate the people around you. The crunching sound can become increasingly annoying to some, which can eventually affect your social life.
Ice Benefits People with Iron Deficiency Anemia, as per Studies
Several studies have attempted to expand on the association between eating ice and iron deficiency anemia, and some suggest the cold crunchiness of ice may have positive effects on symptoms.
It has been shown that the ice cravings of pagophagia can be relieved by iron supplements in anemic patients. But a 2014 Penn study took these findings to a new level by exploring an explanation oft-given by anemic patients–that ice chewing boosts their mental capabilities. An iron deficiency can impair the transport of oxygen to the brain through the bloodstream.
The study, published in the Medical Hypotheses journal, involved two groups of people: healthy individuals and those diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia. It tested the participants’ reaction time, alertness, and vigilance as they watched a series of fast-moving images on a computer screen.
Each image, approximately one per second for 22 minutes, contained one small square and one big square. Researchers instructed volunteers to push a button only if the small square was on top.
All participants were given either ice or tepid water prior to testing to prevent dehydration from playing a role. The iron deficiency anemia patients who took the test without ice had much lower testing scores, which were on par with attention deficit disorder patients. Anemic patients who had consumed ice beforehand, conversely, had virtually the same test scores as the healthy group of participants. The ice and water had no significant effect on performance in the healthy group.
The researchers believe these test results contribute to the theory that chewing on ice stimulates the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
How to Treat Ice Cravings
1. Iron-Rich Foods
Iron-rich foods provide the protein hemoglobin to red blood cells, and it’s essential to supply cell tissues with oxygen. To treat pagophagia, it is recommended to consume spirulina, grass-fed beef, lentils, spinach, sardines, black beans, pistachios, raisins, and even dark chocolate.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
While the exact cause of the pagophagia condition is unknown, stress and one’s mental health have been attributed to such behavior. Counseling along with positive and negative reinforcement may help to deter the ice craving through cognitive behavioral therapy.
Don’t rush to conclusions, but speak to your doctor if you are worried. Finally, if you feel the need to chew on something, carry around a pack of sugar-free gum. It’s gentler on your teeth and your breath will smell fresh!
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