Being “hangry” is usually a sign of metabolic inflexibility and unless you are a type 1 diabetic or on medication, is not typically an indicator of low blood sugar or hunger. When the level of blood sugar (glucose) decreases from what you are accustomed too, the body panics and releases the fight or flight hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
No, it is a potentially dangerous signal that you have lost the ability to use fat as fuel and become almost completely addicted to high blood sugar. The condition of “hangry” is a condition of metabolic inflexibility which is often a precursor to the condition of metabolic syndrome.
Being metabolically inflexible means you can’t efficiently use ketones as energy and solely rely on glucose. The human body is designed to use both glucose and ketones as energy.
Eating frequent meals and/or eating high sugar/carbohydrate meals keeps the blood glucose constantly elevated. It is also described as prediabetic glucose metabolism derangement.
With constantly high blood glucose the body has no need to revert to using ketones as energy and the ketone utilization mechanism becomes dysfunctional. Then when your glucose levels drop even a little you can become “hangry”.
The feeling of unease, irritable, short-tempered, and edgy. Some people even report jitters, shakiness and the inability to relax. It seems to have a negative effect on psychological moods.
Yes, the word “hangry” was actually added to the Webster’s Dictionary in 2018. The introduction of the word hangry correlates to the recent spike in type 2 diabetes rates.
Because it is so common and we needed a word to describe the feeling. High blood sugar is associated with being hangry, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that as of 2015, 30.3 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and another 84.1 million have prediabetes.
Alarmingly, 1 in 4 didn’t even know they had diabetes and only 11.6% percent of adults knew they had prediabetes.
The hangry feeling is so misunderstood
One thing that I always had trouble understanding was why we get hangry and irritable between meals? The doctor told me I had high blood sugar so why did it feel low?
This feeling wasn’t just in my head, I would actually get cranky, irritable and you could physically see my hands and fingers shaking.
I wanted to understand the Hangry Science.
I Googled this topic for insight and was disappointed in what I found. One of the “expert” websites recommended that eating frequent meals would help alleviate the hangry feeling. The top-ranked scientific article on Pubmed says this.
“Many people feel emotional when hungry-or “hangry”-yet little research explores the psychological mechanisms underlying such states.”Feeling hangry? When hunger is conceptualized as emotion.
I found one interesting study on Pubmed that discovered Hunger Recognition was associated with a significant decrease in insulin and blood glucose during the glucose tolerance test.
“A set of spontaneous hunger sensations, Initial Hunger (IH), has been associated with low blood glucose concentration (BG).”Hunger Can be taught: PubMed
Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome typically occurs about 10 years before type 2 diabetes is diagnosed. The hangry condition even occurs before metabolic syndrome.
The “Hangry” feeling is usually caused by insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is not normally tested by physicians, but I found a definition. This study defines insulin resistance as:
“Matsuda index values <4 after an oral glucose tolerance test and they maintained A1C <6.5% without therapeutic intervention”Diabetes Care-PMID: 17384344
Here is a funny video to show you what it’s like to be hangry.
Eating frequent meals will worsen the Hangry feeling.
I wrote an entire article about whether sugar is healthy or not. But it’s not just sugar, anytime you eat starches and carbohydrates it gets broken down into sugar and raises your blood glucose. We can only handle about a teaspoon of glucose in our blood, after that it becomes toxic, also known as high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
Chronic exposure to hyperglycemia can lead to nerve damage and cellular dysfunction that may become irreversible over time, a biochemical process called glucose toxicity. The body protects itself from this damage with the hormone insulin. Insulin removes excess glucose. For the sake of this article let’s just say that insulin lowers blood glucose.
When you eat a snack it raises your blood sugar and insulin
So whenever you snack your pancreas releases insulin to lower the excess blood sugar. Your blood sugar goes down and you start feeling “hangry” again. It’s a vicious cycle because every time you snack again your blood sugar goes up and you get used to the high blood sugar levels.
The hangry individual almost always eats something sweet/starchy that raises their blood sugar to their abnormal high levels and then they feel better again.
How do you prevent that hangry feeling?
You have to train your body to use fat as fuel as opposed to glucose. Over time, the body gets used to lower blood sugar and the hangry feeling goes away. Here is an article on the fat-adaptation process. You don’t always need to use ketones, even occasional use will improve blood sugar, insulin sensitivity and eliminate that hangry feeling that we all hate. Here is an article on being in a state of ketosis.
The ketogenic diet can prevent that hangry feeling.
The Keto or low carbohydrate diet can lower your blood sugar and prevent the hangry feeling. With consistently lower blood sugar your body gets used to it and doesn’t panic when it drops. When your blood sugar truly does get low your liver can actually make its own glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. You can even fast and skip meals without feeling angry.
Ketogenicinfo is committed to providing information on all things related to the keto diet. Here are some additional articles to help you break the hangry cycle:
Can the condition of feeling hangry lead to type 2 diabetes?
I don’t think we can make that claim as a 100% fact at this point. Here is an informative article on type 2 diabetic being linked to insulin resistance. However, It is widely believed that metabolic inflexibility is a precursor to pre-diabetes. It could be a sign of things to come and should not be discounted as irrelevant. Lowering blood sugar is one of the keys to long term good health.