Long before the beef jerky commercial introduced the notion of someone being “hangry” (hungry and angry) I knew it was a real thing. If I skipped lunch, I would no doubt transform into an unbearable rage monster by early afternoon.
At the time, I knew that hangry was a real condition, but thanks to our good friend – science, now there is an explanation to the phenomenon of being insufferable when you are hungry.
The Science Behind Being Hangry
Everything we eat gets broken down into either simple sugars, amino acids, or free fatty acids, all of which provide our bodies with energy as we consume food. As the time between meals increases, these levels of vital nutrients decreases. Most importantly, your glucose levels drop.
Glucose is like fuel for your brain, and without it, you may notice that even simple tasks become harder. Another weird aspect of glucose levels dipping into the red is that your mood begins to change as well. It is almost the same effect that not getting enough sleep has on your brain: you become less socially tolerable.
To go a little deeper into the theory of hangry, you have to look at the flip-side of the brain’s response to low glucose levels. Our brains have this funny little function called the “counter-regulatory response”. When the brain is deprived of glucose, it sends signals in the form of hormones to organs in the body to start producing more glucose.
These hormones include growth hormone, glucagon, and adrenaline. Because of the release of adrenaline your body experiences the “fight or flight” response that can make you seem more hostile towards other people.
Aside from hormones, when we are hungry our brains produce a chemical known as “neuropeptide Y”. There is also a variant of the neuropeptide known as “Y1” that regulates anger and aggression. With these two chemicals so closely linked in the brain, the sensation of being hangry is totally feasible. If you ask me: it is an evolutionary trait that ensures the survival of the species. When you get hungry, you get mad – when you get mad, you do what you need to do to survive.
So the next time you get a little moody, and someone suggest that you have a snack, tell them that your neuropeptides are in survival mode, and that if they know what is good for them – they will back off.