When's the last time you got into a fight with your significant other? If it was before the bread basket arrived at your favorite bistro, it might not have really been because he keeps clipping his toenails in the shower. You might have just been "hangry"—or so hungry that you were angry.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that being hungry can cause extreme anger in some people.
“Hungry people are cranky people,” says the lead author Brad Bushman, Ph.D., stating what moms have known for centuries.
The study gave couples blood glucose monitors and voodoo dolls (best science project ever!) and instructed each partner to take their blood sugar in the morning and evening. Each person was to take their voodoo doll every night and stick pins in it to represent how angry they were with their partner. Zero pins meant no anger at all, while 51 pins was Lorena Bobbitt-worthy.
After three weeks, the researchers found that people with lower blood sugar were more stabby, even when controlling for a number of variables like overall relationship satisfaction. The hangrier people got, the more the doll became a pincushion, for both men and women.
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To understand the hangry phenomenon, Amir Mehran, M.D., co-director of the Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Los Robles Hospital, says you need to realize how intertwined all of the body's systems are—what we feel in our guts doesn't just stay in our stomachs but can affect our hearts, lungs, brains, and even our emotions.
"When you're hungry, your body goes into a fight-or-flight response to help you hunt for food," he says. "It becomes a vicious cycle: The adrenaline mobilizes the body's sugar to fuel your search for food, but eventually you feel very depleted and get hungry. Then the whole cycle starts all over again."
Often the first thing people want to do when they're feeling depleted is to eat something sweet, like a candy bar, but the sugar will cause an insulin spike quickly followed by a sugar crash, which will only leave you feeling crankier. Instead Mehran suggests eating something with protein and complex carbs, which will burn off slowly, kind of like your anger. He also recommends eating frequent, small meals to keep your blood sugar steady.
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In the end, Bushman says the important thing to remember is to make sure you're not hungry before having a discussion with your spouse about a conflict situation. But maybe buy a voodoo doll—it sounds immensely cathartic!