Have you ever been so hungry that you became angry? What your feeling is called “Hangry”
Recently, Oxford Dictionaries add this word: hangry (adjective): bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.
The simple answer is that your body needs food. But why does this happen? Here is the science behind why we get Hangry.
“The carbohydrates, proteins and fats in everything you eat are digested into simple sugars (such as glucose), amino acids and free fatty acids. These nutrients pass into your bloodstream from where they are distributed to your organs and tissues and used for energy.
As time passes after your last meal, the amount of these nutrients circulating in your bloodstream starts to drop. If your blood-glucose levels fall far enough, your brain will perceive it as a life-threatening situation. Unlike most other organs and tissues in your body which can use a variety of nutrients to keep functioning, your brain is critically dependent on glucose to do its job.
You’ve probably already noticed this dependence your brain has on glucose; simple things can become difficult when you’re hungry and your blood glucose levels drops. Have you found it hard to concentrate or you may make silly mistakes or noticed your words become muddled or slurred. If so you may have be able to conjure up enough brain power to avoid being grumpy with important colleagues, you may let your guard down and inadvertently snap at the people you are most comfortable with, such as partners and friends. Sound familiar?
Besides a drop in blood-glucose, another reason people can become hangry is the glucose counter-regulatory response.
When blood-glucose levels drop to a certain threshold, your brain sends instructions to several organs in your body to synthesize and release hormones that increase the amount of glucose in your bloodstream.
In fact, adrenaline is one of the major hormones released into your bloodstream with the “fight or flight” response to a sudden scare, such as when you see, hear or even think something that threatens your safety.
Another reason hunger is linked to anger is that both are controlled by common genes. The product of one such gene is neuropeptide Y, a natural brain chemical released into the brain when you are hungry. It stimulates voracious feeding behaviours by acting on a variety of receptors in the brain, including one called the Y1 receptor. Besides acting in the brain to control hunger neuropeptide Y and the Y1 receptor also regulate anger or aggression.
While many physical factors contribute to hanger, psychosocial factors also have a role. Culture influences can impact directly or indirectly whether you express verbal aggression. The easiest way to handle hanger is to eat something before you get too hungry. While you may hanker for quick-fix foods, such as chocolate and potato chips, junk foods generally induce large rises in blood-glucose levels that come crashing down fast. Ultimately, they may leave you feeling hangrier. So think nutrient-rich, natural foods that help satisfy hunger for as long as possible, such as nuts or a protein bar.
Eating as soon as you are hungry may not always be possible. This may be the case during long shifts at work, for instance, or through religious fasts such as Ramadan, or during weight-loss diets that involve severe energy restriction (such as intermittent fasting diets). All of these should only be done if your doctor has given you the all-clear.” It can help to remember that, with time, your glucose counter-regulatory response will kick in and your blood-glucose levels will stabilize. So make sure you keep a healthy diet and don’t skip meals.
Don’t be Hangry, eat something.
National Health and Medical Research Council senior research fellow in the Boden Insitute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at University of Sydney. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.