Many people state they experience anger when they are hungry. This feeling is often described as ‘hangry’ – A cross between hunger and anger.
So what is the scientific reason why some people experience a change in mood when they are hungry?
‘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. You see, 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’
So when you blood glucose levels drop, you brain can suffer! Concentration can become more difficult and as a result we can become more irritable or moody. Socially acceptable behaviour may also become more difficult which can result in snapping at people. When we have gone a long period of time without eating another response occurs in our body. This can also cause mood changes.
‘When blood-glucose levels drop to a certain threshold, your brain sends instructions to several organs in your body to synthesise and release hormones that increase the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. The four main glucose counter-regulatory hormones are: growth hormone from the pituitary gland situated deep in the brain; glucagon from the pancreas; and adrenaline, which is sometimes called epinephrine, and cortisol, which are both from the adrenal glands. These latter two glucose counter-regulatory hormones are stress hormones that are released into your bloodstream in all sorts of stressful situations, not just when you experience the physical stress of low blood-glucose levels.’
How to deal with hanger?
Try avoid getting to the point where you’re famished and have something small to tide you over. Choose healthy options instead of junk food that will cause a quick spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a sudden drop, leaving you hungry again.
And when you aren’t able to eat for a while?
‘In these cases, it can help to remember that, with time, your glucose counter-regulatory response will kick in and your blood-glucose levels will stabilise. Also, when you go without food, your body starts breaking down its own fat stores for energy, some of which are converted by your body into ketones, a product of fat metabolism. Ketones are thought to help keep your hunger under control because your brain can use ketones in place of glucose for fuel.’