Sorry, Not Sorry
I’ve been craving potatoes for over a week. There’s a bag in the pantry but I’ve not felt up to dealing with them. So, I’ve compensated by eating potato chips (the ones made with real potatoes and no preservatives) but I still want actual potatoes. This prompted me to Google the subject, thinking my body’s trying to tell me I’m lacking some vital nutrient. All I could find is there’s no real scientific evidence of cravings and nutrient deficiency but maybe a lack of Tryptophan could be the cause. I have been feeling down lately but that’s not exactly uncommon for me and I don’t crave potatoes every time. But, I digress. This isn’t about potatoes it’s about ice. I only bring up the potatoes to inform you of how creepy Google has become. It led me from research about potatoes to how ice cravings are associated with anemia. This, in turn, led me to writing this post.
I vaguely remember my mother snacking on ice from time to time when I was younger. My sister still has slushies of Coke or Dr. Pepper brewing in the freezer. By default, I always assumed that my infatuation with eating ice was something I learned from them. As my research informed me, that isn’t the case. It’s not psychological in my case. It’s physical.
Craving and chewing substances that have no nutritional value such as ice, clay, cornstarch or paper is referred to by doctors as “pica”. Specifically, pagophagia is the term used to describe craving and chewing ice. Pagophagia is often associated with iron deficiency anemia. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, when your body does not have enough iron, it will make fewer red blood cells or red blood cells that are too small. This is called iron deficiency anemia. Scientists don’t fully understand the link, but some suspect that compulsive consumption of ice relieves inflammation in the mouth brought on by iron deficiencies. In extreme cases, people with undiagnosed anemia and pagophagia have been known to go through multiple bags or trays of ice in a single day; the problem usually clears up after treatment with iron supplements. However, iron supplements can have gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark colored stools, and/or abdominal distress. None of which I’d happily welcome given all the issues I currently have.
For years, my C’s have caused me bouts of anemia. I have been on iron supplements before as well. Between the Crohn’s, Celiac, and PSC, the problem, however, has always been that a dose low enough to not give me gastrointestinal issues wasn’t high enough for my body to really absorb. Therefore, I try to eat foods that are high in iron, while limiting the foods that prevent iron absorption.
I’ve found that chicken, turkey, peanut butter, oatmeal, and raisins are a good source of iron as well as, fairly easy to digest. Spinach, kale, and other greens, dried lentils, peas, and beans are also high in iron but are unfortunately hard on my digestive system. When eating high iron foods, I try to avoid things that contain calcium (dairy) and oxalic acid (sweet potatoes) because they prevent the absorption I’m trying to obtain.
Being pale or having yellow “sallow” skin
Unexplained fatigue or lack of energy
Shortness of breath or chest pain, especially with activity
Unexplained generalized weakness
Pounding or “whooshing” in the ears
Headache, especially with activity
Craving for ice or clay
Sore or smooth tongue
Brittle nails or hair loss
Most of these are nothing new to me and I have dealt with for years. Some of these are symptoms of my C’s as well, so pinpointing the exact cause has proven difficult. Am I just anemic again or is my Crohn’s flaring? Did I eat gluten or does my liver have another infection and causing my PSC to flare? It’s usually rather hard for me to tell.
In my research, I also found that anemia is an early sign for Colon Cancer. A routine blood test can show a low blood count, which signifies internal bleeding. Obviously, further testing, such as a colonoscopy, is needed to properly diagnose Colon Cancer but it is something to keep in mind for those who have not previously thought there was a connection between cancer and anemia.
In specific relation to Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, I found that some experts say that the complications of cirrhosis can cause the spleen to remove too many red blood cells from circulation or decrease production of red blood cells. Given that PSC is a form of cirrhosis, that only confirms what I already knew. My body isn’t producing enough healthy red blood cells and the Crohn’s and Celiac Diseases are preventing me from absorbing the iron needed to aid in the predicament the PSC has created.
Thus, for 19 years, I have annoyed those around me with my constant ice chewing. It really isn’t anything for me to destroy a 5-pound bag of ice in 3 days, given the chance. In addition, an infinite supply of ice chips are one of the few benefits to my hospital stays. Anyway, I now have proof that I wasn’t eating ice it to irritate them but, that my body was literally making me due to my iron deficiency.
So, no I’m actually not sorry my eating ice bothers you!
**Listening to Zakk Wylde**