• "Hangry" gets the best of all of us sometime. (Facebook)
One woman has blamed her recent violent outburst on the fact she was "hangry". But does "hanger" have any kind of scientific basis?
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

19 Feb 2016 - 10:57 AM  UPDATED 19 Feb 2016 - 10:59 AM

Hangry - the portmanteau of hunger and angry - has plagued us all at one time or the other.

But could hanger really go so far as to make a person violent?

That's what one American woman in Richmond, Virginia is claiming.  Lovely Robinson attacked a Wendy's fast food worker, Latanya Nelson, when she got her order wrong by biting her left knee.

Robinson later blamed the outburst on being "hangry".

We spoke to two experts, Embarrassing Bodies host Dr Brad McKay and accredited practicing dietitian Katherine Baqleh about the science behind what makes you hangry, and if it can really push you to the limit of such violence.

"It's merely anecdotal evidence of what we’re feeling. I don’t think it’s an excuse you can use in a court of law" When you're hungry, your body is screaming out for nutrients and it sometimes translates to being angry and irritable," says Dr McKay.

Hangry might seem fake, but there is a scientific justification behind it. (CW)

 Dr McKay says the need to food or water is a "primal instinct" and if hungry enough "we'll do anything for it". But he still doesn't believe hunger could be translated into anything more than grumpiness.

Ms Baqleh, however, says their is definitely a scientific foundation for hanger.  

"Carbohydrates break down into sugars. And the brain, unlike other parts of the body, only uses sugars for fuel. If your glucose is low, your brain thinks it's life threatening. So your fight or flight response kicks in." she says, marking low blood sugar as the main culprit behind hanger.

Ms Baqleh also says some studies have shown a genetic correlation between anger and hunger.

"Hunger and angry are both controlled by a common gene - the NPY brain chemical," she said. "The hormone increases your appetite and [study authors] are thinking it does produce pangs of aggression."

But what about in the case of people with diabetes who frequently suffer from low blood sugar?

Ms Baqleh explains when your body goes into glucose deprivation, as is the case for diabetes sufferers, the body starts feeding on its fat and protein stores, some of which is converted to a chemical called "ketone".

Low blood sugar is the culprit behind being "hangry". (NBC)

“So the brain uses ketone to keep hunger under control. But it’s a dangerous state to be in for long periods. It’s called ketoacidosis which is poisonous to the body.”

But in diabetic patients the condition escalates in threat to diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition only found in people with type 1 diabetes.

However, none of this would convert to be hangry, as sufferers of diabetic ketoacidosis don’t react with aggressive tendencies. They, in fact, feel weaker.

“For people with diabetes, if it goes on too long, they get unconscious and need an injection of sugar. It can be a medical emergency. They wouldn’t snap into a raged frenzy,” said Dr McKay.

But even in cases of non-diabetes sufferers, both Dr McKay and Ms Baqleh are doubtful hanger could cause an outburst as violent as Robinson's attack on the Wendy's server.

"I couldn't possibly image that myself. There had to be other factors affecting her, like work or a relationship," says Ms Baqleh.

Dr McKay agreed saying, "In this case, I doubt she was trying to appease her primitive urge to obtain sustenance by devouring a meal of a human knee. Even if she was 'hangry', there’s no excuse for such violent behaviour.”

Dietitian Katherine Baqleh says junk food can actually make "hanger" worse. Instead she says to opt for low GI foods like seeded crackers and avocado, the next time your hunger gets the better of your temper. (Mars Inc.)

More on food
Don’t let the ‘souping’ trend give soup a bad name
Much like juicing, soup-only diets are targeted at people wanting to ‘detox’. But what if you just want a healthy dinner?
The science of 'hangry'
Many of us fall victim to “hangry” outbursts (hunger-fuelled anger) when our bodies are craving food, but can we put our grumpiness down to physiology or do we simply lack restraint?