If you haven’t been there, go give yourself a big pat on the back, you perfect thang. But I think I speak for most of us when I say…we’ve all been there!
Hanger. It’s an actual thing. And here’s why it happens.
Glucose is a carbohydrate, or simple sugar, and is basically the backbone of ‘cellular respiration’ – aka our body’s production of energy. So for obvious reasons it’s pretty crucial that our glucose levels are kept stable at a constant level, which is where hormones like insulin come into play in maintaining them for us (that is, the body secretes insulin into the blood when our levels are too high to turn the excess glucose to glucagon thereby lowering glucose levels, and the reverse if our levels are too low…still with me?).
Diabetes is what happens when our blood glucose levels remain too high, because our bodies are either resistant to insulin (Type 2), or they don’t make enough of it (Type 1).
Hypoglycaemia is what happens when our blood glucose levels drop too low – more specifically, when they fall below 3.9mmol/L (DANGER!) – mainly due to the complicated hormonal fluctuations that come from eating too many refined carbohydrates (but also possibly because of gastric surgery or conditions like anorexia).
When this happens, glucagon is released, adrenaline and the growth hormone are released, cortisol is released, cognitive dysfunction comes into play…and all of this leads to anxiety. There’s no mistaking the link between the brain needing glucose for energy, and us mentally (pardon my French) cracking the shits when we don’t get it. The penny’s beginning to drop now, isn’t it?
Hypoglycaemia also brings with it a bevy of super fun symptoms like anxiety, sweet cravings, irritability, fatigue, weakness if missing a meal, headaches, the sweats, tiredness after eating, poor memory, poor concentration, overweight, depression, nervousness, mood swings… HANGER!
In fact, hanger grabs some people in its ugly clutches pretty darn hard. Hypoglycaemia is common in impulsive, aggressive and violent criminals, especially male juveniles. A study showed that combating hypoglycaemia in male juvenile inmates, behind bars for assault, robbery, vandalism, and deadly weapon possession, reduced antisocial behaviour considerably. Even in non-criminal men, aggression often coincides with hypoglycaemia.
Hypoglycaemia may also explain why some of us suffer so badly from PMS (cravings, a larger-than-usual appetite, fatigue, headaches and more 5-10 days before a period) and migraines (for which hypoglycaemia is a common triggering factor).
So, what do we do about stopping ourselves from getting hangry? It’s all about diet and lifestyle.
A diet full of whole, unprocessed foods, with lots of complex carbohydrates, high fibre, and natural sugars (put down that raw sugar – we’re talking fruit and vegetables, which also contain the fibre to slow down sugar absorption and prevent sugar fluxes) is recommended. Low GI (glycaemic index) foods are also favourable. Oh, and cinnamon, cocoa and chromium help to support the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels – so reach for those next time you’re feeling the hanger or sugar cravings taking hold!
And alcohol on the regular? That’s going to be a no from me. In the short-term, excess alcohol consumption induces hypoglycaemia, and in the long-term can actually lead to diabetes.
For some sufferers of migraines, just eliminating refined sugars is enough to improve their condition. And those naughty male juvenile inmates I mentioned earlier? Sugar restriction was the key to reducing their antisocial behaviour.
You may also want to consider a good old fashioned gut detox (more on why you should detox here).
Exercising for even half an hour three times per week will also prevent hypoglycaemia and hanger – so get out there, and get that heart rate pumping (to at least 60% of its max is ideal).
Bon voyage, hanger!
References: Metagenics Functional Psychiatry seminar 2016, 'The Ultimate Herbal Compendium' by K Bone & 'The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine' by J Pizzorno, M Murray, H Joiner-Bey.