If you’ve ever snapped at someone after going without food for a prolonged period of time, then it’s likely that you were experiencing the effects of “hanger”. The term – formed by merging the two distinct words of hunger and anger – refers to a state whereby some people become irritable and grumpy when they haven’t eaten for a long time.

Dismissed until recently as not much more than a myth, numerous scientific studies have now proven that hanger is very much a real state experienced by many individuals on a regular basis.

But what exactly causes this so-called condition? And why are some individuals more adversely affected than others?

What Causes Hanger?

To understand hanger better it’s worth just reminding you of what happens when you consume food. The proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that you ingest are all broken down into simple sugars (predominately glucose) which is then used for energy for a range of organs and tissue.

The longer it’s been since your last meal, the less of those vital nutrients there are in your bloodstream. Once your blood-glucose drops below a certain level, your brain immediately sends signals to a few major organs to produce hormones that increase the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. 

During this period, you may start to notice that even simple tasks become difficult. Concentration levels often drop, and you can struggle to properly articulate. This is due in large part to the brain’s reliance on glucose to function.

Without sufficient glucose, you don’t have enough brain power to act within certain social norms – such as showing restraint in frustrating situations – and therefore you can cave in to impulsive and aggressive behaviour. This is exacerbated by the release of those glucose regulating hormones such as adrenaline, which is usually associated with our “fight or flight” response.

Why Does Hanger Affect Some More Than Others?

You may be aware of some friends or colleagues who are dangerous to be around after a prolonged period without food, and others that aren’t affected so badly. This is in large part down to differences in their genetic make-up.

The gene neuropeptide Y is released when you are hungry and it reacts with the Y1 receptor to try and initiate voracious feeding behaviours. They are also both responsible for the regulation of anger and aggression. Studies have shown that those with higher concentrations of both neuropeptide Y and Y1 receptors tend to display more instances of impulsive aggression.    

Therefore, those individuals with a greater natural predisposition for anger and aggression are likely to react worse to the conditions created by a lack of glucose in the bloodstream.

How to Avoid Hanger

Whilst the solution may seem incredibly simple – take a break to eat some food – the choices you make with your nutrition also have an effect.

When grabbing something to eat to stave off hanger symptoms, avoid foods that are high in refined sugar and saturated fats. Those types of foods tend to spike blood-glucose levels in your body before bringing it crashing down. Leaving you potentially worse-off than you were before eating.

Instead, aim to consume healthy, natural foods that will help to satiate you for as long as possible. If for any reason you cannot eat for a prolonged period and you are struggling with hanger, it’s useful to remember that eventually your brain-initiated hormone response will eventually kick in to stabilise blood-glucose levels.

Make sure you also drink plenty of water too, keeping your fluids topped up to prevent dehydration. Often when you feel hungry, you are infact thirsty. This will aid digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and the maintenance of your body temperature.

Hanger Is Very Real Phenomenon – But It’s Easy to Avoid…

Whilst it’s clear that hanger is a very real situation that many individuals have encountered at one point or another, it can be easily avoided by simply eating at frequent intervals.

If you find that you tend to exhibit more impulsive or aggressive behaviour when in a state of hanger, then you may need to pay more attention to when and what you are eating in order to avoid creating any unnecessarily confrontational situations.

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