Sudeep Singh

22 July, 2015:

Some people tend to snap angrily at someone when they are hungry. This sort of experience is termed as ‘hangry’ – the phenomenon whereby some people get grumpy and short-tempered when they’re overdue for a feed.

So why do some people experience ‘hanger’.

The carbohydrates, proteins and fats that we get from the food we eat are digested into simple sugars, amino acids and free fatty acids. These nutrients pass into our bloodstream from where they are distributed to our organs and tissues and used for energy.

As time passes by, the amount of these nutrients circulating in our bloodstream starts to drop, and now our brain will perceive it as a life-threatening situation. Now, some of us may have noticed what happens next. Simple things can become difficult while hungry (i.e, when blood glucose levels drop). We may find it hard to concentrate, thus, leading to make silly mistakes. But another thing that can become more difficult when hungry is behaving within socially acceptable norms, like snapping at people. Even though we may be able to conjure up enough brain power to avoid being grumpy with important colleagues, we may let our guard down and snap at people we are most relaxed with or care about most.

hangry venn111

The reason that hunger and anger are linked is that both are controlled by common genes. The product of one such gene is neuropeptide Y which is a natural chemical released into the brain when we’re hungry. It stimulates voracious feeding behaviors by acting on a variety of receptors in the brain, including one called the Y1 receptor.

Neuropeptide Y and Y1 receptor is also responsible for regulating anger or aggression. Now we can see the pathway that makes us prone to anger when we’re hungry. This is rather a survival mechanism. Lets take it this way, if hungry organisms stood back and graciously let others eat before them, their species could die out.

brain on hanger111

But we don’t want to snap at other people just because we got hungry. It is not nice and might affect our relation with some people or affect our social status.

So, how do we deal with hanger?

The easiest way to handle hanger is to eat something before we get hungry. Junk foods such as chocolate and potato chips, generally induce large rise in blood glucose levels that come crashing down fast, thus, they may ultimately leave us feeling ‘hangrier’. So, it is better to eat nutritious natural foods that help satisfy hunger for as long as possible.

But we cannot always get to eat right when we are hungry. This may be the case during long shifts at work or through religious fasts or during weight-loss diets. In these cases, when we go without food, our body starts breaking down its own fat stores of energy, some of which are converted into ketones (ketones are thought to help keep your hunger under control). In this case, our brain uses ketones in place of glucose for fuel.