Why does one get hungry

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Maybe you know the feeling: you haven’t eaten for a long time and have the impression that your growling stomach makes you irritable. You may feel hungry. But why do some people get angry when they are hungry?

It is a relatively known fact that people who have not eaten, although hungry, can be easily irritable, angry, or even aggressive. But where does this effect come from? Is being hungry just a welcome occasion to express one’s negative emotions or to excuse a lack of self-regulation? So do some people like to blame their bad mood on not having eaten? There is a medical explanation for why some people get angry. It has to do with blood sugar levels.

Depending on how much this affects a person, irritability and aggression can also affect interpersonal relationships.

If you haven’t eaten in a while, it usually makes itself felt through hunger. What happens in the body when you are hungry and don’t eat? The blood sugar level drops. At first, concentrating is more challenging because the brain lacks sugar (glucose) – some people also feel irritable or angry. Why is this?

When blood sugar levels drop, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, among others, are released. These hormones regulate the blood sugar level. More specifically, adrenaline increases blood glucose levels by providing more sugar (glucose stored as glycogen in the liver or muscle). Cortisol increases blood sugar by promoting the production (synthesis) of glucose. However, it also triggers stress responses in the body and the so-called fight-or-flight response. This can make people more likely to be unhappy, irritable, or even angry and aggressive. The neurotransmitter (messenger of the nerves) neuropeptide y plays a vital role in controlling the feeling of hunger and is released when blood sugar is low. It increases appetite and can cause people to behave more aggressively.

Older studies suggested a link between hunger and the ability to exercise self-control. The latter is said to be negatively affected when people are hungry. However, scientists and researchers doubt that brain functions responsible for self-control can be affected by fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

A new study from 2022, which resulted from cooperation between several universities in Austria and Great Britain, aimed to test the hungry effect in practice. Test subjects were asked to rate their hunger and emotional states in an app. According to the study results, hunger is related to negative feelings such as increased anger and irritability. The context in which hunger is experienced can also be crucial. People who experience hunger are likelier to be irritable or angry in stressful situations than satiated people in the same situation.

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