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Is it dangerous to eat ice?
May 21, 2012 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Aside from the dangers to your teeth, is it dangerous to eat ice?

Was talking to a friend about eating spicy and cold things during the summer. I've heard from a few people that eating or drinking cold things, especially ice, can be hazardous to infants and the elderly, but can't find any specific reason for this.

Is there any particular medical reason, other than damaging your teeth, not to eat ice? It's just water, isn't it?
posted by princeoftheair to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Other than the possibility that you might choke (briefly, until it melts) if it goes down the wrong tube, there's no reason not to eat ice.

In hospitals, people who are debilitated enough that they can't eat or drink anything else are often put on a "sips and chips" diet, which is just ice chips and sips of fluid, usually as a supplement to IV hydration. If very sick people can eat ice without issue, so can you.
posted by killdevil at 8:11 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not dangerous, but it IS a symptom of anemia.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:17 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless you have sensitive or fragile teeth, I can't see how eating ice would be any more dangerous than eating peanut brittle (probably better for you, actually).
posted by elizeh at 8:19 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've heard from a few people that eating or drinking cold things, especially ice, can be hazardous to infants and the elderly

This idea is often quite prevalent in Asian cultures that have a history of medicine with "hot" and "cold" elements in the human body, and balances being out of whack. It has no basis in fact.
posted by smoke at 8:26 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a doctor tell me once that "the reason Americans get sick so much is because you consume drinks with ice cubes in them."

I'm pretty sure he was a quack.
posted by 4ster at 8:29 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


My dogs adore eating ice. They think it's one of the finest treats in the world. On hot days we'll sometimes give them fairly large quantities of ice for them to munch on to cool off. One time, we had purchased several bags of ice for something and ended up having a 10lb bag left over, so we dumped it on the patio for them to indulge. A little while later, the little one scampers into the house, acting kind of weird. He bounds into the bedroom at top speed and then curls up just as quickly. About 20 seconds later, he leaps up again and runs for a second and then curls up. I get a little closer and realize that he's having full body shivering attacks every 20 seconds or so, and he literally can't stay still. The little bastard had consumed enough ice to give himself the beginnings of hypothermia. He was still bright eyed and bursting with energy so put him on leash and took him for a quick jog, and he would RUN and then almost stumble every time the shivers hit. After a block he had brought his core temperature back up and the shivering stopped. Turns out the furry dude had eaten almost all of the 10lbs of ice by himself in about 10 minutes, which means he consumed about 15% of his body weight in ice. When he passed by the few lonely cubes of ice still left on the porch after his jog, he tried to eat them too. So I'm going to say that eating 15% (or probably even 10%) of your body weight in ice can be dangerous if you don't have someone to go for a jog with you afterwards.
posted by hindmost at 8:35 PM on May 21, 2012 [60 favorites]


Not sure how it would relate to humans but I assume mammals (dear, moose, wolves, etc) in the wintery parts of the world have to eat snow or at least drink incredibly cold water for large portions of the year.

Also..."My dogs adore eating ice." omg chilidogs!
posted by ian1977 at 8:53 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Slightly OT, but as someone who's 'broken' her teeth from anemia-induced ice chewing, I'd advise against it.

A few things that I've gleaned from the experience is that 1. putting your teeth in contact with cold things makes them more brittle. 2. When you've got ice on the surface of your tooth and you push more ice into it it tends to compact the surface of the tooth, leaving you with big ol' ravines and dips and stuff for food to get stuck in. 3. Your front teeth take a lot of time to stop being so damned sharp because they flake away in a flinty way. 4. Actually all your teeth get sharp and biting your tongue sucks.
posted by sibboleth at 9:28 PM on May 21, 2012


No, it is not dangerous to eat ice.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:02 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


More broadly, there are a lot of ideas surrounding ice cold vs. room temperature water, and how it affects exercising, etc. This article does a decent job of delineating these ideas and which ones have some scientific supports.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:11 PM on May 21, 2012


Yeah, I think the risk of anything going wrong while eating ice cubes is almost nil, however:

...other than the possibility that you might choke (briefly, until it melts) if it goes down the wrong tube...

If you choke badly on an ice cube, you'll asphyxiate in much less time than it takes for the ice cube in your throat to melt.
posted by wutangclan at 10:17 PM on May 21, 2012


You could over stimulate your vagus nerve and pass out.
posted by gorcha at 1:41 AM on May 22, 2012


I guess if you were to eat ice that was significantly below freezing (like way way below zero), you might cause yourself frostbite in the mouth. I'm imagining that it wouldn't be pleasant!

Far from being dangerous, it could be good for you - you will burn calories heating up all that cold water.

Considering drinking a litre of ice cold water. Your body will then heat that water to body temperature (+37 degrees C). My back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me this will burn 37 calories! (and actually, probably a bit more than this given the inefficencies of energy conversion).
posted by BigCalm at 6:43 AM on May 22, 2012


While I'm not that surprised at the lack of obscure medical knowledge here, I am kind of surprised at number of affirmatively wrong answers you've gotten, which is to say that YES THERE IS A HAZARD THAT YOU SHOULD KEEP IN MIND, PARTICULARLY AS A CARETAKER FOR AN INFANT.

Adipocytes, or fat cells, are more vulnerable to cold damage than other cells. This means that if you keep ice in your mouth for long enough you can easily drop the temperature of your cheeks low enough to selectively kill the fat cells in your cheeks responsible for maintaining the fat deposits there. If you do it enough you'll kill so many fat cells that they can no longer care for those fat deposits causing inflammation and and sometimes nasty infection. Obviously this is not healthy, but while it is not always serious, it is still worth a visit to an ER.


  • Epstein, Ervin and Oren, Mark, "Popsicle Panniculitis" "The New England Journal of Medicine", 282 (17) : 966-67, 1970
  • S Day, BL Klein. Popsicle panniculitis. Pediatric emergency care, 1992 Apr; 8(2):91-3
  • James, William D.; Berger, Timothy G.; et al. (2006). Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: clinical Dermatology. Saunders Elsevier. ISBN 0-7216-2921-0.
  • Rapini, Ronald P.; Bolognia, Jean L.; Jorizzo, Joseph L. (2007). Dermatology: 2-Volume Set. St. Louis: Mosby. ISBN 1-4160-2999-0.

  • posted by Blasdelb at 6:50 AM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I should note that I am not a medical doctor, I am not your doctor, and this is not in any way medical advice. If this or any other activity causes you concern for your health I would strongly recommend against asking the internet for exactly this kind of reason. Your Primary Care Physician, or your child's if applicable, would be the best source of information and advice about how cold foods, drinks, and ice can affect your health.
    posted by Blasdelb at 7:01 AM on May 22, 2012


    > You could over stimulate your vagus nerve and pass out.

    Just to add some more info: the vagus nerve is at the back of your throat. If you make it cold enough your heart rate is going to slow.

    Saying "ice is just water" (above) and therefore safe makes little sense.
    posted by gorcha at 7:16 AM on May 22, 2012


    Also, it depends on the eating ability of the child and the elderly patient. Clearly, if you're not feeding them "choking hazard" foods like grapes or cut up hot dogs or whatever else is on the bad list, ice cubes would also be on that bad list.

    And of course, there's brain freeze, but to the best of my knowledge that's uncomfortable more than dangerous. Like hindmost's dog, though, the question is whether the eater will realize that it's the ice making them uncomfortable and stop eating it. Questionable with toddlers and dementia patients.
    posted by aimedwander at 7:18 AM on May 22, 2012


    also, the old TMJ -- if you're spending a lot of time chewing ice, then you could start to get pain in that joint, which is a bummer. for me, corn nuts were the last straw, but ice can send little reminder twinges too...
    posted by acm at 7:37 AM on May 22, 2012


    Adipocytes, or fat cells, are more vulnerable to cold damage than other cells. This means that if you keep ice in your mouth for long enough you can easily drop the temperature of your cheeks low enough to selectively kill the fat cells in your cheeks responsible for maintaining the fat deposits there.

    I can only hope you won't be haunted by guilt in your later years over the fad for young people who aspire to be models filling their cheeks with ice balls you may have kicked off here, Blasdelb-- not to mention the occasional death from hypothermia that could result from desperately obese people filling their tubs with ice cubes in an attempt to replicate what the spas may well refer to as the 'Blasdelb cure.'

    Do you suppose the fat cells are killed by the fat droplet freezing? I remember that the liquid over a wide range of temperatures Neatsfoot Oil everyone used to slather their baseball glove with supposedly came from the feet of cows.

    Protection of fat cells in the cheek could possibly account for a folk tradition forbidding ice consumption among Asians, considering that the epicanthic fold is usually explained as an adaptation to protect the eyeball from freezing wind.

    Ice cubes are often inveighed against in travel guides, because tourists who take care only to drink bottled water and eat cooked food so often fail to think about the water in their ice cubes, which may point to another hazard of eating ice: stomach acid is a very important defense against pathogens in food (parents are advised not to give babies honey in their first year because they don't have the stomach acid to protect themselves from the botulism spores occasionally found in honey) and eating ice could interfere with acid secretion in the stomach, allowing pathogens to get through into the intestines that would otherwise have been killed by the acid.
    posted by jamjam at 7:58 AM on May 22, 2012


    "I can only hope you won't be haunted by guilt in your later years over the fad for young people who aspire to be models filling their cheeks with ice balls you may have kicked off here, Blasdelb"
    Here let me google image search that for you, I'm not to concerned, but for super clarity, cold panniculitis is not a good idea to induce at home.
    "...not to mention the occasional death from hypothermia that could result from desperately obese people filling their tubs with ice cubes in an attempt to replicate what the spas may well refer to as the 'Blasdelb cure.'"
    Artificially inducing cold panniculitis using lasers is already an FDA approved therapy for selectively reducing fat tissue, the googlable term is cryolipolysis. It has been demonstrated as safe and effective at what it claims to do, which isn't to say that it is a good idea, but that it is safe and will work if performed under the supervision of medical professionals.

  • Manstein D, Laubach H, Watanabe K, Farinelli W, Zurakowski D, Anderson RR. (2008). "Selective cryolysis: a novel method of non-invasive fat removal." Lasers Surg Med. 2008 Nov;40(9):595-604.
  • Avram MM, Harry RS (2009). "Cryolipolysis for subcutaneous fat layer reduction". Lasers Surg Med. 2009 Dec;41(10):703-8. 41 (10): 703–8.
  • Zelickson B, Egbert BM, Preciado J, Allison J, Springer K, Rhoades RW, Manstein D. (2009). "Cryolipolysis for noninvasive fat cell destruction: initial results from a pig model". Dermatol Surg. 2009 Oct;35(10):1462-70.
  • Coleman SR, Sachdeva K, Egbert BM, Preciado J, Allison J. (2009). "Clinical Efficacy of Noninvasive Cryolipolysis and Its Effects on Peripheral Nerves". Aesthetic Plast Surg. 2009 Mar 19 33 (4): 482–8.
  • Nelson AA, Wasserman D, Avram MM. (2009). "Cryolipolysis for reduction of excess adipose tissue". Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2009 Dec;28(4):244-9.
  • "Do you suppose the fat cells are killed by the fat droplet freezing? I remember that the liquid over a wide range of temperatures Neatsfoot Oil everyone used to slather their baseball glove with supposedly came from the feet of cows."
    The only difference between a fat and an oil is whether the lipid is a solid or a liquid at room temperature. Many things affect the melting point of lipids, but the fat deposits in our bodies are already frozen as a result of their high melting temperature, that is what makes them fats and not oils. If the OP has kilograms of Neatsfoot Oil deposits throughout their body then they have bigger problems than AskMe can address. The reason why adipocytes (The cells that create, consume, and manage fat deposits) are more cold sensitive than other cells is not currently understood, but it is experimentally clear that they are. The mechanism of cold panniculitis has been pretty clearly demonstrated as fatty tissue that is cooled below body temperature but above freezing that undergoes localized cell death followed by a local inflammatory response.
    "Ice cubes are often inveighed against in travel guides, because tourists who take care only to drink bottled water and eat cooked food so often fail to think about the water in their ice cubes, which may point to another hazard of eating ice: stomach acid is a very important defense against pathogens in food (parents are advised not to give babies honey in their first year because they don't have the stomach acid to protect themselves from the botulism spores occasionally found in honey) and eating ice could interfere with acid secretion in the stomach, allowing pathogens to get through into the intestines that would otherwise have been killed by the acid."
    This is also bizarrely and demonstrably wrong, but in a way that is important to the question itself. Consuming ice has never been demonstrated to have any effect on the production of stomach acid, and billions of dollars have gone into researching those pathways. However, it is important to bring up the potential non-intuitive microbiological dangers of consuming ice produced from non-potable water. The reason travel guides recommend strongly against consuming ice outside of industrialized nations with strong public health infrastructure is that freezing is a very ineffective means of water sanitation. Most water-borne pathogens will do just fine being suspended in ice and so, when the ice melts in your drink or in you, any pathogens in it will reanimate and cause disease. This is indeed another non-intuitive way in which consuming ice can hurt you.
    posted by Blasdelb at 9:23 AM on May 22, 2012


    Consuming ice has never been demonstrated to have any effect on the production of stomach acid, and billions of dollars have gone into researching those pathways.

    Chilling slows the metabolism of human cells as far as I know, and if the parietal cells of the stomach, which produce the acid, are somehow an exception to this, it would be very interesting to know that and have some idea of the mechanism. Perhaps no one has demonstrated that cooling parietal cells slows their production of acid, assuming that no one has, because the matter seems clear on its face.

    And if cooling does reduce the production of acid, then I can't see how that could fail to affect the demonstrated protective effect of stomach acid, and that in turn would imply that eating ice could make a person more vulnerable to pathogenic organisms in food.

    Many things affect the melting point of lipids, but the fat deposits in our bodies are already frozen as a result of their high melting temperature...

    This is a very interesting assertion, and seems to contradict what I've read to the effect that humans do not alter the saturation or chain length of the fats they consume, unlike cows, before storing them in adipocytes. If this is and true one's diet were very rich in the oils of arctic fish, for example, not to mention all the plant oils liquid at room temperature, it would be remarkable if those were frozen in adipocytes at body temperature.
    posted by jamjam at 10:15 AM on May 22, 2012


    but for super clarity, cold panniculitis is not a good idea to induce at home.

    I wonder if the Finns would agree:
    A traditional Finnish sauna ends with a dip in a cool lake or 'avanto' (a hole made in the ice in wintertime) or with rolling in the snow. The idea is to cool off after the sauna (this must be done carefully, to minimize the risk of fainting). Cool-off time can end the sauna experience or it can be followed by another round or two. After showering, it is conventional to have a beverage, most commonly a beer or non-alcoholic drink, or traditionally a shot of Koskenkorva (vodka-like traditional Finnish spirit).
    posted by jamjam at 10:35 AM on May 22, 2012


    Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the issue of frozen fat in adipocytes, by the way:
    White fat cells or monovacuolar cells contain a large lipid droplet surrounded by a layer of cytoplasm. The nucleus is flattened and located on the periphery. A typical fat cell is 0.1mm in diameter with some being twice that size and others half that size. The fat stored is in a semi-liquid state, and is composed primarily of triglycerides and cholesteryl ester.
    [my emphasis]
    posted by jamjam at 10:58 AM on May 22, 2012


    "Chilling slows the metabolism of human cells as far as I know, and if the parietal cells of the stomach, which produce the acid, are somehow an exception to this, it would be very interesting to know that and have some idea of the mechanism. Perhaps no one has demonstrated that cooling parietal cells slows their production of acid, assuming that no one has, because the matter seems clear on its face."
    It is probably true, but only in a trivial way. If you were able to cool your stomach significantly enough, and for long enough, to meaningfully affect its ability to regulate pH then you would likely have much larger problems than high pH.
    "This is a very interesting assertion, and seems to contradict what I've read to the effect that humans do not alter the saturation or chain length of the fats they consume, unlike cows, before storing them in adipocytes. If this is and true one's diet were very rich in the oils of arctic fish, for example, not to mention all the plant oils liquid at room temperature, it would be remarkable if those were frozen in adipocytes at body temperature."
    Every cell in the human body must be able to carefully regulate the liquidity of their membranes, I'm more familiar with grm+ve and grm-ve bacterial and archaeal regulation* than the mammalian systems, but they get complex and subtle very fast. If you mix a little bit of olive oil with a lot of lard at a high temperature and let it cool, you will end up with a solid block of fat. The balance lipids in each of our tissues is carefully regulated so as to have the right mix of fats to have exactly the right level of liquidity. I imagine that adipocytes have to regulate their fat globules to keep them in their proper almost-but-not-quite-solid states at body temperature in similar ways.

    *With a few beers in me I would happily draw out both the synthesis and regulation pathways for Methanogens with both nomenclatures, Bacilli, and E. coli with both nomenclatures for you; but again I'm not a medical doctor and so the physiology I took was different.
    posted by Blasdelb at 11:01 AM on May 22, 2012


    Every cell in the human body must be able to carefully regulate the liquidity of their membranes, I'm more familiar with grm+ve and grm-ve bacterial and archaeal regulation* than the mammalian systems, but they get complex and subtle very fast.

    One of the "subtle" factors here, of course, is that the liquidity of the membrane of the adipocyte is not in question, because we are talking about a droplet of fat within the cell and "surrounded by a layer of cytoplasm."
    posted by jamjam at 11:14 AM on May 22, 2012


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