Are You Hungry or Hangry?

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

May 26, 2014

  • Are You Hungry or “Hangry”?
  • How low blood sugar fuels aggression
  • My top solutions for the blood sugar blues

I’m not trained in marriage counseling. But that doesn’t stop my patients from bringing their domestic problems into my office. For example, last week one of my long-time patients stopped in for a checkup. She was radiating anxiety. And when I asked her what the problem was, she made a confession.

Things had gotten a little rocky at home. She didn’t know why, but she found herself picking a fight with her husband most nights when he came home from work.

Now I know this guy. He’s as hard-working and easy-going as it gets. I also know these two are a happily married couple. So I started digging a little deeper.

It turns out her husband has been really busy at work and coming home later than usual. Six o’ clock dinners are now occurring at eight or nine at night. That little bit of information told me everything I needed to hear.

You see, when you skip meals or delay meals, it can trigger a “hypoglycemic event.” This basically means it drives your blood sugar way down. And for many people, low blood sugar can spark rage and aggressive behavior.

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There’s even a new term being used for this condition. It’s called being “hangry.”

Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself. You’re hungry and tired. And for no reason at all, anger grabs hold of you and you lash out at someone you love.

Well, guess what? You’re not alone.

Here’s some interesting research that shows just how much influence your glucose levels have when it comes to expressing anger at your spouse.

I spend a lot of my time poring over the latest research and scientific studies. It can be a long and boring read. So I love it when something odd and unusual appears in my medical journals.

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In a 21-day study, researchers from The Ohio State University measured blood glucose in 107 married couples every morning and evening. Each spouse also received a voodoo doll with 51 pins. The voodoo doll represented their spouse.

At the end of each day they stuck the doll with up to 51 pins depending on how angry they felt toward their better half.

Here’s what they noticed. The lower a person’s blood sugar levels were at night, the more pins they stuck in their spouse-doll!

I have to admit, I enjoyed the break from reading much more technical studies. More importantly, it reinforces what functional physicians like me have known all along.

Something as simple as hunger caused by low blood glucose can trigger marital arguments and other confrontations. And it doesn’t matter how great your marriage is. You simply lose self-control when your blood sugar drops.

That’s because your brain is a glucose hog. Even though it’s only 2% of your body weight, your brain consumes about 20% of your calories. When it runs out of fuel, it doesn’t have the energy to control anger and aggression. That’s when you say and do things you regret later.

So it’s important not to take hypoglycemia lightly. And don’t take it out on your spouse. Here’s how to avoid those low blood sugar blues…

When blood sugar drops, you may be tempted to reach for a sugary snack or some processed food. Your body knows that eating high-glycemic carbohydrates or sugary foods bring blood glucose levels up very quickly.

But all that does is set you up for another round of sugar highs and crashes. They’ll spike your blood sugar and then send you into a downward spiral.

Instead, trade them in for more complex carbohydrates. Fill your plate mostly with non-starchy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower.

I also suggest including high-quality protein in your meals. Eggs, fish, nuts, plain Greek yogurt, beans, cage-free turkey or chicken and grass-fed beef are all good choices. And they’ll keep you feeling satisfied and energized for longer.

And what do you do if your sweet tooth kicks in? Enjoy some fruit. Most fruits are relatively low on the glycemic index. The fiber slows down how fast their natural sugars get into your bloodstream. Berries, apples, pears, watermelon, and peaches are some of my favorites.

Finally, avoid skipping meals. Keeping your mealtimes at regular intervals helps keep your blood glucose stable throughout the day.

Three meals a day (at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.) work well for most people. And snacks should be eaten about halfway between meals. In this example, snack times would be 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. I like the nighttime snack to be something like a few slices of turkey (hormone- and antibiotic-free, of course), to help keep your sugar levels more stable throughout the night. Plus, the L-tryptophan in turkey can help you fall asleep easier.

Brad J. Bushman, C. Nathan DeWall, Richard S. Pond, Jr., and Michael D. Hanus. “Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples.” PNAS. Apr 2014.

Hofeldt FD. “Reactive hypoglycemia.” Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 1989 Mar;18(1):185-201.

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