I’m thankful I can still eat ice cream, despite my cold agglutinin disease

Blue Bell and a cold Diet Coke remain among this columnist's guilty pleasures

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by Mary Lott |

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The all-too-familiar tickle in the back of my throat warned me: I was getting a cold.

I would rather have malaria than a cold. I hate everything about it, from the achy, run-down feeling, to the stuffy, I-can’t-breathe clogged nose. But the constant sting in the back of my throat from nasal drip makes it an absolutely miserable experience. Fortunately, there is one splendid mitigating factor.

Ice cream!

Blue Bell’s Homemade Vanilla is my favorite flavor. I think it’s the best medicine, too. The basic recipe for ice cream has wholesome ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, whole eggs, and vanilla. It is churned until smooth, and the coolness brings relief to my fevered body.

But when I was diagnosed with cold agglutinin disease (CAD), I began to consider every bite of ice cream as a guilty pleasure that I probably should give up. I still ate some, but only when my cold symptoms increased beyond my endurance. Could it be possible that my “medicinal” ice cream was actually harming me in some way?

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What’s so dangerous about ice cream?

Cold agglutinin disease is a type of autoimmune hemolytic anemia. When our red blood cells are exposed to lowered temperatures, they clump together, are targeted by certain proteins, and are ultimately destroyed. The result is anemia, fatigue, and other symptoms.

The disease also lowers our resistance to infections. This makes a simple illness like a cold last much longer for “CADdies,” as those of us with CAD call ourselves.

Therein lies the problem. The primary defense against hemolysis, the breaking down and elimination of red blood cells, is to stay warm. I am ever vigilant in bundling up, wearing gloves, and covering my face with scarves when I might breathe cold air. That is why the enjoyment of ice cream seems counterintuitive.

After I was diagnosed in 2018, I reluctantly began to limit my intake of cold drinks. A daily enjoyment had to be sacrificed. Somehow, a room-temperature soda doesn’t quench my thirst in the same way that same drink sparkling over ice cubes in a glass does. Did I dare risk it?

It was the same with ice cream. My family serves up the cold dessert for birthdays and summer holidays. I like plain vanilla ice cream, but I love it either slathered in hot fudge with a generous dollop of whipped cream or with fresh peach slivers from Clanton, Alabama, mixed into my servings. I gave up all this to be healthy.

Guilty pleasure returned!

Three young children — two girls and a boy — pose for a photo while holding cups of ice cream. The two girls are wearing dresses and appear mid-bite, with their spoons in their mouths. The boy is giving a thumbs-up. They're standing on a green lawn, and a green spiral slide is behind them.

Three of my grandchildren enjoy very cold ice cream at the zoo on a recent summer day. (Photo by Mary Lott)

Then, a few months ago, I listened to one of the foremost authorities on CAD discuss in a webinar hosted by the CAD Foundation the challenges that CADdies face and the adaptations we must make. Jeremy Lorber, a hematology and oncology specialist at the Cedars-Sinai Cancer center in Beverly Hills, California, reiterated much of the advice I had already heard. But then he began covering questions from the listeners.

One of the first ones he addressed was whether CADdies could enjoy cold foods and drinks. To my surprise, he said that most of us didn’t have to forgo such luxuries. He explained that the digestive system is separated from the circulatory system sufficiently enough that the foods are warmed by our core temperature before mixing with our blood.

So now I am back to enjoying my Diet Coke as I surf the internet. My husband, long-suffering man that he is, makes the journey to the store to buy my vanilla ice cream to relieve my sore throats. Somehow, I seem to be getting more colds since I learned I could indulge.

The third Sunday of July — which this year is July 21 — is designated as National Ice Cream Day. But former President Ronald Reagan liked ice cream so much he felt one day wasn’t sufficient to celebrate its full worth. He designated the entire month of July as National Ice Cream Month.

It’s nice to have such a flavorful and healthy way to celebrate. I enjoyed ice cream sundaes last week as we celebrated my daughter’s birthday. This is the life!

Note: Cold Agglutinin Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cold Agglutinin Disease News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cold agglutinin disease.


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