Pagophagia: Understanding the Addiction to Ice

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Pagophagia refers to an intense craving for eating and chewing ice. This condition is part of the medical term “pica.” Pica describes the craving and chewing of substances with zero nutritional value. These substances include paper, chalk – and even clay and soil.

Pica is often triggered by underlying emotional problems. Usually, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder or developmental disorders develop pagophagia. Stress could also trigger pica in some patients. In other cases, mineral deficiency could also lead some people to develop intense urge to chew ice. Some health experts suggest a link between anemia or iron deficiency and pagophagia. Others believe it’s caused by zinc deficiency.

Dangers of Iron Deficiency

Iron is an important nutrient that assist in the generation of red blood cells. When the body does not have enough red blood cells, it starves of oxygen. Iron deficiency is a common problem among women. In fact, 5% of women between 20 and 49 years old are iron deficient. Women of childbearing age are at risk of developing iron deficiency. Adolescent girls are also at risk because of poor diet.

Most foods contain iron. But because dietary iron come in various forms, the amount of iron your body absorbs will depend on the type of food you eat.

For instance, the iron from meat products is absorbed easily compared to iron derived from vegetables. Also, the absorption of iron could increase or decrease due to various reasons. Eating foods rich in vitamin C helps facilitate proper absorption of iron. Drinking beverages rich in polyphenols also helps boost iron absorption.

On the other hand, calcium prevents the absorption of iron. This is why there is a strong link between iron deficiency and excessive consumption of dairy products.

Iron deficiency causes serious health problems including GERD, anemia and heart disorders. To prevent iron deficiency, educate yourself on all the foods that are rich in this nutrient. The recommended dietary allowance of iron for average men over the age of 19 is 8 mg per day. Women ages 19 to 50 should take 18 mg of iron per day. Women over the age of 51 should take8 mg per day.

Dangers of Pagophagia

If you are having inexplicable urge to eat ice, have yourself tested for iron deficiency. Pagophagia isn’t just a serious condition, it could also damage the teeth. Persistent chewing of ice cause teeth and gums sensitivity. It also causes cracked teeth or broken fillings. In severe cases of pagophagia, the molar teeth will start wearing out. Usually, the urge to chew ice goes away after the iron in the blood reaches the normal level.

If you are diagnosed with anemia, work with a licensed Hematologist. A Hematologist specializes in diseases related to the blood. A specialist will help you overcome the condition. He could also suggest various methods to boost red blood cells production.

Who are Vulnerable to Pagophagia

Pagophagia becomes a cause of concern when the patient craves for ice months at a time.  Chronic smokers and those who consume alcoholic beverages regularly are susceptible to developing pica. The treatment will depend on what triggers pagophagia. For instance, if it’s a medication condition, you need to go through several tests. Behavioral therapy also help if pagophagia is caused by emotional or developmental issue.


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