Unusual Cravings to Consume Ice, Dirt or Clay Could Point to Iron Deficiency Anemia

We all remember that one kid growing up who would gross out the class by eating something that was never meant to be eaten, like dirt or sand at recess. You probably chalked it up to the kid being “weird” or “gross” and likely figured they were just doing it for attention, right? Well, what if I told you that eating these types of non-food materials could actually be a sign of iron deficiency or related anemia?

The ingestion of non-nutritive substances is referred to as Pica. Pica is seen as an eating disorder and one that is common among people with developmental disabilities. Though it’s far more common in children, adults can suffer from it too. In fact, it is estimated that worldwide, 25% – 33% of all pica cases involve small children, 20% involve pregnant woman, and 10% – 15% are individuals with learning disabilities. It is not known how many have iron deficiency anemia.


Things that are commonly ingested by those with Pica include:

  • Ice
  • Dirt or soil
  • Clay
  • Chalk
  • Sand
  • Hair
  • Fingernails
  • Feces
  • Stones
  • Burnt matches

Pica usually exists with other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or an intellectual disability. It can also be the result of iron deficiency anemia.


Do You Crave Chewing on Ice?

For people with iron deficiency-related Pica, the most common craving is chewing on ice (also known as pagophagia), though the other materials listed above might also be craved, especially dirt, sand and clay.


When to See a Doctor

Pica is generally characterized by compulsive cravings for food with little to no nutritional value that persist for a period of one month or longer. If you find yourself or a loved one craving things that we normally wouldn’t dream of putting in our mouths, or wanting to chew on ice chips – unless in the throes of labour – then a trip to the doctor is in order to investigate or rule out iron deficiency and related anemia.

Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Clip to Evernote

Leave a Reply