Hangry: science or an excuse?

Hangry is such a useful word. It aptly describes those people who become grumpy, irritable and short-tempered when they’re hungry. Some people definitely become more hangry than others. I’m sure we all have a friend or relative who is virtually impossible to deal with when they’re hungry, but as soon as satiety sets in, they’re a delight.

What science has to say about the hangry hordes…

The longer is has been since your last meal, the fewer the nutrients that are in your bloodstream. Thus, the energy supply to your organs and tissues starts to decrease due to a lower blood-glucose level. Importantly, your brain depends on glucose to function. So there are several symptoms that you might notice when your blood-glucose level is too low:

  • It’s increasingly difficult to focus and concentrate.
  • Simple tasks become more challenging.
  • You are more likely to make silly mistakes.
  • You might start muddling or slurring your words.
  • It can be more difficult to behave according to acceptable social norms.

This last point in particular explains the incidence of hangry behaviour. For example, you might snap at other people, become very grumpy, etc.

But it doesn’t end there…

When your blood-glucose levels drop too low, your brain will interpret this as life threatening. Your brain will then instruct several other organs to release hormones that will raise your blood-glucose level. These hormones include adrenaline and cortisol – the chemicals that are released into your bloodstream in response to any type of stressful situation. This results in the typical ‘fight or flight’ response you experience when stressed – and may account for ill-tempered behaviour such as shouting (another symptom of being hangry).

Another possible cause is that the genes that are responsible for controlling hunger also control anger. And then there are also cultural and societal influences, such as whether it’s acceptable to shout and be aggressive.

Feed the hangry beast

The only way to reduce the symptoms of being hangry is to have something to eat. Sugary junk foods are the worst option as they will spike your blood-glucose levels and cause them to crash – making you hangry all over again! Have a nutritious snack to keep the grumpiness to a minimum.