The science behind being “hangry”

The science behind being “hangry”

Ever had a busy day, skipped lunch, and in the afternoon, you get so cranky that you feel like flinging something at your co-worker?

There is a scientific explanation for being “hangry,” or angry while you are hungry, according to research. The main culprits–low blood-glucose serotonin levels.

“If your blood-glucose levels fall far enough, your brain will perceive it as a life-threatening situation,” says Amanda Salis, senior research fellow at the University of Sydney. “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 drop. You may find it hard to concentrate, for instance, or you may make silly mistakes. Or you might have noticed that your words become muddled or slurred.”

Researchers found that when glucose levels are low, the brain sends instructions to several organs in the body to release hormones that increase the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. Two of these are stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which are released into the bloodstream in all sorts of stressful situations.

Serotonin is another important factor, says Dr. Jean Shlyak, an internal medicine physician on staff at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in mood regulation, and when people are hungry there is a drop in serotonin levels.

This can adversely affect mood and the ability to control responses in stressful situations.

Dr. Shlyak offers some tips on how to deal with the situation.

  1. Eat small meals more often. Don’t wait until you are hungry to eat. If you are hungry, it is too late, and the various hormonal reactions have already begun. Have a substantial breakfast and eat at regular intervals thereafter, a total of four to five times per day, but also, don’t overeat at your next meal.
  1. Choose a healthy snack. If hunger hits, reaching for crackers, candy and soda from the vending machine will make the situation worse. Your glucose levels will go too high and drop very quickly, making you ‘hangry’ again. Avoid simple carbs and stick with protein-rich foods. Add complex carbs to complement the meal.
  1. Avoid simple carbs at lunch time. Mid-afternoon low energy is often the result of cyclical hormonal responses disrupted by improper nutrition. At lunch time, don’t eat pizza, pasta or a sandwich, but opt for healthy salads with protein (chicken, shrimp, beef, fish, tofu, etc.) or steamed or stir-fried veggies with protein.
  1. Pick your battles. Try not to deal with stressful situations on an empty stomach.

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About the Author

Sonja Vojcic
Sonja Vojcic

Sonja Vojcic, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. She has several years of international public relations and marketing experience with a Master’s degree in Communications from DePaul University. In her free time, Sonja enjoys spending time with her family, travelling, and keeping up with the latest health news and fashion trends.

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