Hunger making you angry? How to deal with your 'hanger'

HAVE you ever snapped angrily at someone when you were hungry? Or has someone snapped angrily at you when they were hungry?

If so, you've experienced hangry, an amalgam of hungry and angry, where some people get grumpy and short-tempered when they're overdue for a feed.

But where does hanger come from? And why is it that only some people seem to get hangry? The answer lies in some of the processes that happen inside your body when it needs food.

The physiology of hanger

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 and to your organs and tissues and are 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. You see, unlike most other organs and tissues in your body that can use a variety of nutrients to keep functioning, your brain is critically dependent on glucose.

You've probably already noticed the dependence on glucose; simple things can become difficult when you're hungry and your blood glucose levels drop. You may find it hard to concentrate, for instance, or you may make silly mistakes.

Another thing that can become more difficult when you're hungry is behaving within socially acceptable norms, such as not snapping at people. So while you may be able to conjure up enough brain power to avoid being grumpy with important colleagues, you may let your guard down and snap at people you are most relaxed with or care most about, such as partners and friends. Sound familiar?


Another response

Besides a drop in blood-glucose concentrations, another reason people can become hangry is the glucose counter-regulatory response.

When blood-glucose levels drop to a certain point, your brain sends instructions to organs to synthesise and release hormones that increase the glucose in your blood.

The four main glucose counter-regulatory hormones are: growth hormone from the pituitary gland deep in the brain; glucagon from the pancreas; and adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and cortisol, both from the adrenal glands.

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. Just as you might shout in anger at someone during the fight or flight response, the flood of adrenaline from the glucose counter-regulatory response can promote a similar response.


Nature and nurture

Another reason hunger is linked to anger is because they are controlled by common genes. The product of one such gene is neuropeptide Y that is released into the brain when you are hungry. It stimulates voracious feeding by acting on receptors in the brain, including Y1. Neuropeptide Y and the Y1 receptor also regulate anger or aggression.


Dealing with hanger

The easiest way to handle hanger is to eat before you get too hungry. Quick-fix foods such as chocolate and potato chips in the throes of hanger generally induce large rises in blood-glucose levels that crash down fast.

Ultimately, they may leave you hangrier. So think nutrient-rich, natural foods that satisfy hunger for as long as possible.

A civilised way to handle difficult situations is after food, not before.

This article is originally from and courtesy of The Conversation.

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