A craving for ice cubes is a form of pica (the need to eat substances not normally considered as food) called pagophagia which is an unusual but significant symptom of iron deficiency anaemia. That being said, iron deficiency anaemia will generally present with more familiar symptoms such as tiredness, pale skin, reduced immunity, breathlessness or dizziness, swollen tongue, brittle nails.

Iron deficiency can affect people of all ages but there are certain groups who are more at risk such as women of childbearing age, pregnant women, children, the elderly, vegetarians and vegans and people with certain medical conditions (coeliac disease, gastric ulcers).

As iron supplements are easily available over the counter, it can be very tempting to self diagnose! Taking iron tablets when one is not iron deficient can be harmful as a build-up of excess iron in the body can damage organs and even affect the absorption of other crucial minerals (eg zinc and copper). A simple blood test is all that is needed to determine if your symptoms are caused by low iron or by another, perhaps more serious condition. It will also help guide how much iron you need to take and for how long to restore levels back to normal (typically about 3-6 months). The underlying cause of your deficiency should also be treated at the same time.

Treating low iron generally involves taking an oral supplement. Your doctor may recommend one or you could speak to your pharmacist. As iron is poorly absorbed orally, it is best taken on an empty stomach, away drinks such as tea, coffee and red wine, certain medications and vitamins. But if it upsets your stomach, take it with or shortly after food. Once levels are restored, try to maintain levels by including iron-rich food in your diet such lean meat, offal, fish, eggs, dark, leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli) and beans. Vitamin C improves iron absorption so including brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables in your diet not add a burst of visual happiness to your day but is inherently healthy as well!

The Curious Case of Chewing Ice Cubes

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