23andMe Finds Link Between Hunger And Aggression

June 21, 2018

Let’s face it – when you are feeling hungry, you will not be in a particularly good mood. But what about those times when you are feeling hangry? “Hangry” is an interesting mashup of the words hungry and angry that entered the popular lexicon back in the 90s. In 2018, it was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Although this term is relatively new, the connection between feeling hungry and being in a bad mood has been around for quite a while now. 

Several studies have proven that low blood sugar causes personality changes, which also includes higher aggression rates between spouses. Another study compared judicial decisions by the time of day and, indeed, judges usually hand down harsher sentencing decisions before their mealtime breaks compared to those made after. With that in mind, having a snack before an argument or bringing the judge a sandwich before a trial definitely sounds like a good idea. 

23andMe Finds Link Between Hunger And Aggression


23andMe conducted a survey regarding eating behaviors, which included the question “How often do you feel angry or irritable when you’re hungry?” The study incorporated more than 100,000 people, 75% of which stated they felt “hangry” from time to time.

The study noted significant variations across sex and age. Women are much more prone to anger or irritability when hungry. Individuals under 50 also showed higher anger levels when hungry as opposed to those over 50. In order to explore the underlying biology of hunger and feeling irritable when hungry, 23andMe ran a genome-wide association study among unrelated Europeans. The study was strictly controlled for sex, age, diversion of genotyping platform, and genetic ancestry. 

Genome-wide significance was reached in two regions. One was located in the VRK2 (vaccinia-related-kinase 2 gene) and the other in the ERI1 (exoribonuclease 1 gene). Both of these loci were previously associated with a range of neuropsychiatric and personality conditions. For example, the VRK2 gene was associated with depression, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. In addition, 23andMe already connected the ERI1 gene with subjective well-being, neuroticism, and irritability in two separate publications. 

ERI1 is known as a protein-coding gene connected with a known inversion polymorphism on chromosome 8. An inversion polymorphism happens when a chromosome segment breaks off, flips 180°, and re-integrates in the same place. These occurrences have a very unique role within the genome because they are less likely to be recombined across generations. This type of inversion is quite common, with an estimated frequency of 20% among Asians, 50% among Europeans, and 80% among Africans. 

Observed together, these results indicate that feeling irritable and angry when hungry could have its roots in the genes that govern our mental health and personality in general. 23andMe initially expected to find a closer relation between feeling hangry and blood sugar regulation, but these results were not a complete surprise since many of the genes associated with obesity involve pathways that act in the brain. 

Additionally, 23andMe research team wondered if feeling hangry could actually give you an edge rather than just make you feel on edge. A perfect illustrator for these types of situations is the case of the 2018 gold medalist in women’s snowboarding. Before she headed out to the halfpipe, she tweeted: Wish I finished my breakfast sandwich but my stubborn self decided not to and now I’m getting hangry. After this tweet, she dazzled the world with her double 1080s and inverted 540. So, even though we cannot positively prove that feeling hangry can actually give you an edge, we definitely know it cannot stop you from performing at your highest level. 

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