Ice: nature's perfect snack?
Well ... not really. But among the strange things that people munch on compulsively -- like dirt, dust from venetian blinds, glass and air freshener blocks -- ice has to be one of the most innocuous. (Check out our piece on a condition they call pica.) Lots of people chew it, but not many people know why. (As Neatorama recently pointed out, there's a whole website devoted to answering this question.) The old-standby answer that I've always heard is that "it relieves sexual tension," which holds about as much water as that green M&M urban legend. However, there is considerably more evidence to support the idea that ice chewing (otherwise known as pagophagia) is a response to an iron deficiency, and indeed a quick scan of online ice-chewing forums reveals that some of the most obsessive chewers are anemic. (Why do some iron deficient people reach for ice to chew rather than, say, a length of re-bar to suck on? Seems there hasn't been a lot of research done on this.)
A few juicy excerpts from the ice chewing forums, after the jump.
"I almost feel guilty about my GALLON + of ice I crunch on a day. I take a gallon ziploc bag to work with me (filled) and run out by the time I drive home. My husband shudders at the noise of the ice maker!" - Bellie
"Like everyone I love my ice. My problem is my tongue and insides of my mouth are so cut up ... I can't eat anything that has spice. yet I keep chewing." - aireloom
"When I was pregnant I chewed ice like crazy! I also ended up with two broken teeth before it was all over." - Gina
"hey..i eat ice like crazy and...its like the onlything i eat..i have stopped craving food and when i do feel hungry i eat ice..." - Anon