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Pagophagia: Causes and Signs You Have Ice-Chewing Cravings

Pagophagia, the constant need to chew ice, is a result of several health problems. Identifying which category the condition falls under will help you control your cravings holistically.

Close-up of a woman’s lips in red lipstick as she bites a few ice cubes. 

Pica is a craving for non-food items, such as chalk, dirt, paper, or ice cubes. It may sound unusual, but it happens. The compulsive chewing of ice cubes in particular, is called pagophagia. It can leave you skating on thin ice with your dental and digestive health.

Learn the reasons behind the condition’s occurrence and clinical and alternative treatments that’ll kick your cravings for ice to the curb.

So, What Causes Pagophagia? 

To date, the root cause of pagophagia has yet to be determined. But there are several conditions that are linked to the development of this unusual habit.

Nutritional deficiencies

A woman covering her mouth with her left hand looking nauseous.
Pagophagia can be a sign of morning sickness, which is common among pregnant women.

In 2014, a study was conducted to understand the relationship between iron deficiency anaemia and pagophagia. It found that 16% of participants with iron-deficiency anaemia also had the urge to chew ice.  

The craving for ice cubes may indicate low levels of iron in a pregnant woman’s body, but can also be a sign of: 

  • Low haemoglobin levels 
  • Heartburn or acid reflux 
  • Burning mouth syndrome 

Mental illnesses and developmental disorders 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may trigger a desire to chew ice in response to an obsession. Depression, autism spectrum disorder, mental illness, and stressful situations can also put you in a similar position.

Internal imbalances 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), two imbalances are associated with a higher risk of pagophagia. 

“The development of pathogenic factors like Fire and Wind will stimulate and excite the soft tissues in the jaw and oral cavity. This will induce jaw mobilisation and a greater tendency to chew. 

“A preference for ice, irrespective of the form, is attributed to the body’s need to cool down and neutralise the Fire pathogen. It can also ease jaw and mouth hypersensitivity, which is a by-product of Blood and Yin (passive energy) Deficiencies.” 

Real Health Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew

Holistic Treatment Options for Pagophagia 

Keep in mind that the condition doesn’t carry the same health risks as other types of pica. However, you may still need to change your diet to prevent malnutrition from causing long-term damage to your health. 

Psychiatrists will normally recommend cognitive-behavioural therapy for eating disorders. Zyprexa – a drug that’s used to manage schizophrenia – may be prescribed to reduce cravings for non-food items.

Antidepressants and iron supplements can help treat pica related to OCD and iron-deficiency anaemia, respectively.

Fix internal imbalances with TCM remedies and acupressure massages 

Alternative remedies may boost the efficacy of clinical treatments for pagophagia. Herbal formulations that help prevent the condition can restore blood and yin levels and get rid of pathogens within the different organ systems.

Examples of these formulations are:  

  • Si Wu Tang (四物汤) 
  • Yu Nu Jian (玉女煎) 
  • Da Ding Feng Zhu (大定风珠)  
  • Zi Bai Di Huang Wan (知柏地黄丸)  

Other formulas that can eliminate pathogens can also be used in the treatment of pagophagia. These include Shen Jie San (神解散), Yu Zhen San (玉真散), Bai Hu Tang (白虎汤), Xie Huang San (泻黄散), and Da Cheng Qi Tang (大承气汤). 

When herbal formulations are available, self-massaging specific acupoints can also offer mild relief. Try massaging Tai chong (LR3, 太沖), san yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交), xue hai (SP10, 血海), zu san li (ST36, 足三里), and shang ju xu (ST37, 上巨虛) acupoints to ease pagophagia by strengthening the organs.

Acupressure massages may also help suppress ice cravings by improving the health of your digestive organs. To achieve this objective, stimulate the zu san li acupoint, as well as he gu (LI4, 合谷), xing jian (LR2, 行间), and yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉).

As the causes of pagophagia may vary, seeking medical attention can help identify if you have an underlying health condition. A licensed TCM practitioner may also help you maximise the effects of herbal remedies and acupressure massages and teach you how to use them safely.

Have you experienced pagophagia or know of someone who has? Share this article with them today!

References

  1. National Library of Medicine. 2018. Pagophagia in a Female with Recurrent Depressive Disorder:A Case Report with Review of Literature. [online] [Accessed 8 March 2023] 
  2. Verywell Mind. 2021. What Is Pagophagia? [online] [Accessed 8 March 2023] 
  3. Mom Junction. 2023. Eating Ice When Pregnant: Safety, Reasons, Benefits And Risks. [online] [Accessed 8 March 2023] 
  4. Verywell Health. 2021. What Is Pagophagia? [online] [Accessed 8 March 2023] 

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