Your last meal was a while ago and you find your stomach is rumbling — but this is not all. You also begin to feel yourself getting testy and agitated. You snap at your partner or someone at work and immediately regret it and wonder why you felt so angry. Does this sound familiar?
You may be suffering from something called “hangry”; the word is a combination of hungry and angry. This is a phenomenon where some individuals feel irritable and short-tempered when they have gone too long without food.
But why does hanger occur? What happens inside our bodies to cause us to get so angry when we are in need of food?
What happens in our body when we are hangry?
Your brain is solely dependent on glucose in order to function. If the blood-glucose levels drop enough, the brain reads this as a life-threatening event. You may have experienced a lapse in concentration or you may have found yourself making silly mistakes when you are hungry. When your blood-glucose levels drop, your brain cannot function to its maximum capacity.
Another thing you may have noticed is that when you are hungry, you become less able to abide by social norms. For example, you may snap at friends or be bad-tempered with your work mates.
How is glucose produced?
Glucose (and other simple sugars) are produced when you eat carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Amino acids and free fatty acids are also created. After you eat simple sugars, amino acids and free fatty acids pass into your bloodstream and are taken up and used as energy by your organs and tissues. The blood-glucose level in your blood drops as time passes since you last ate.
Glucose counter-regulatory response
There is another reason that you may become hangry when you get hungry. This is due to the glucose counter-regulatory response.
When your blood-glucose levels fall below a certain level, your brain sends out messages to various organs in your body to synthesize and release hormones. These hormones work to increase the levels of glucose in your blood.
Four hormones are released. One of these hormones is adrenaline. Adrenaline is a stress hormone that is released into the blood stream in various stressful situations. You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response that can occur when you are scared or see something threatening. Well, adrenaline is one of the main hormones released into the blood stream during a “fight or flight” situation. During such situations, you may find yourself tempted to scream in anger; a similar feeling can be elicited when adrenaline is released during the glucose counter-regulatory response.
Hunger, anger, and Neuropeptide Y
When nutrient levels in the body get low and you experience hunger, the brain releases a chemical called neuropeptide Y. Neuropeptide Y does a few things, including causing us to eat more. Neuropeptide Y also acts on various receptors; one of which is the Y1 receptor.
Neuropeptide Y and the Y1 receptor not only control hunger, they also work to regulate anger and aggression. Some people may show more impulsive, rash, and aggressive behavior because they have high levels of neuropeptide Y in their cerebrospinal fluid.
What to do to prevent hanger
The best way to deal with hanger is to eat something before you feel yourself getting very hungry. It is best to eat something nutrient-rich, as this will help to relieve the hunger for as long as possible. Junk foods will increase the blood-glucose levels in your body but only for a very short time; soon, the blood-glucose levels will drop rapidly and you will be left feeling hungry again.
Eating straight after you wake up
Eating breakfast can help improve your mood and cognition. It is advisable to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. You are less likely to overeat later in the day if you eat a good breakfast early in the morning.
So, what is best to eat in the morning? Ideally, you should eat a balance of whole grain carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat. You should avoid high-sugar and processed foods.
As we have seen, there are various reasons you may experience hanger when you haven’t eaten in a while. The best way to prevent hanger is to eat before you get too hungry. Also, eating a good breakfast can help to ward of hanger before it creeps up.
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