Tuesday, February 2, 2016

More Ice Please

     There's something about ice. From glaciers to ice cubes, it's so fascinating, even though it is nothing but solid water. It feels different, it looks different, and it...tastes different? I don't know about you, but when I leave Zaxby's (see #10), I always munch on the ice and it feels like an extra side item. I'm not alone. People love ice. It cools our drinks, keeps us busy chewing, and allows for skating and endless rap metaphors. Some people will go to the drive-thru and ask for a free cup of ice instead of a free cup of water, but why? They're the same thing: H2O, just in different states. So other than cooling our drinks and preserving our fish in the YETI, why are we so fascinated with ice, and why does it seem to have it's own taste? And what does our fascination even mean?
     Well considering ice is just frozen water, it doesn't really have a taste actually. Yet ice is solid and gives us something to crew on, like we chew on food, which could be a reason why we feel it has a taste of it's own. Our brain can subtly trick us like that. Ever freeze Kool-Aid or Hi-C or orange juice, etc in ice treys when you were kid (or adult)? It's good isn't it? Almost better than the liquid thing. But in reality, there is no taste difference. Chewing instead of drinking gives us a different sensation. If you could drink(?) water as a gas, you'd experience the same thing. It'd technically taste like water, but you'd feel it tastes a little different because it's in a gas form and not liquid, which you're used to (could you imagine gas-milk?).
     It is possible to be addicted to ice and there is an actual medical term for it: "pagophagia." Just like other addictions, it can get serious. Some people will get up in the middle of the night and sculpt out their freezers to satisfy their ice fix. Pagophagia is actually a form of "pica", or an addiction to something that has no nutritional value. Ever seen those people (probably on TLC) that eat coins, glass, glue, sand, soap, hair, grass, and even mattresses? That's pica. You're aware you really shouldn't be eating it (especially glass...) and you're old enough to know better, but you just can't stop.
     Research has found that people that have pagophagia may actually be anemic. If you are anemic, you have a red blood cell deficiency. Many people with anemia have to take iron pills because their bodies lacks the essential quantity of iron. So why does that matter? What does it have to do with ice? Well while researchers still aren't completely sure, they believe that people with anemia chomp on ice non-stop because of pica. More on that below. Another theory is that chomping on ice relieves inflammation in the mouth. Many people that take iron pills regularly stop getting the urge to crush ice, but when they don't, the urge comes back. It's the bodies own notification system to take your pills I guess.
     New studies as well suggest that people with anemia gain mental boosts from ice. People with anemia are often fatigued because of the low red blood cell counts. Remember, red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, and the less oxygen you get, the more tired you feel. Well ice may give people that kick that they need. According to The Guardian, a study came from the University of Pennsylvania, where they had healthy and anemic subjects complete a standardized ADHD test while being given either a cup of water or a cup of ice. The anemic subjects who sipped on the H2O performed far worse than the anemic subjects who had ice. Those subjects actually performed just as well as the healthy, non-anemic people. For healthy subjects, having water or ice didn't really make a difference in their test results. The study was published in Medical Hypothesis.
     One possible reason for the results? The anemic water-given subjects couldn't focus because they craved ice and they knew it was sitting right there in the room. I didn't read the whole study, but that could have possibly played a role. Another reason is below.
     So what does this mean for non-anemic folk? Well not much really. As stated earlier, you just enjoy ice and love the feeling of the crunch rather than the sip. You also don't eat or crave it enough for it to qualify as pica. Pica still needs a lot of research, but one thing is certain to correlate with it: iron-deficiency. Pregnant women are actually more easily susceptible to pica because the fetus takes a lot of the mother's iron, and eating these abnormal things may be an unconscious way of trying to get that iron back. While that makes sense with dirt, researchers still don't understand why ice is so craved when there is no iron in ice. According to The Guardian, one theory from researchers is that since ice is cold, large consumption of it makes blood vessels constrict and redirects that blood to vital organs such as the brain. Dolphins experience it as well when they dive into colder water.
     Don't be afraid of ice now. It's okay to chomp on it naked. PSA. when I say "naked", I mean eating ice without a drink. Don't literally sit there and eat cups of ice naked. That's weird. Anyway, if you haven't had pica all this time, you're not going to magically get it after reading this (though you could still get it someday). So while craving ice while having low iron may not make sense, it's a good thing we do.
     Ice. It doesn't have to make this kind of impact, to make an impact.

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*citations: New York Times, The Guardian, Our Health, GA Followers, Web MD. *photo credit: The Whole Earth Blog, Eventful, Grayline.

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