There could be a genetic reason some people get ‘hangry’

Robby Keesb eats a Shake Shack burger in front of New York Stock Exchange as part of the company's IPO celebration January 30, 2015.

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Robby Keesb eats a Shake Shack burger in front of New York Stock Exchange as part of the company’s IPO celebration January 30, 2015.
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REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

  • DNA-testing company 23andMe asked 100,000 people if they get “hangry,” the phenomenon in which you get irritable or angry when you are feeling hungry.
  • Based on the responses as well as the peoples’ genetic data, 23andMe pinpointed two genetic variants associated with “hanger.”
  • Genes have more to do with personality than how our body processes food, a result that surprised the researchers.

You know the feeling of crankiness you feel creeping in shortly before mealtimes?

If so, you’ve experienced “hanger” and you’re not alone.

DNA-testing company 23andMe surveyed more than 100,000 people and asked them a simple question: “How often do you feel angry or irritable when you are hungry?” It turns out that more than 75% said they felt the sensation, often referred to as getting “hangry,” at least some of the time.

Researchers at 23andMe then cross-referenced that data with genetic information the company collects from its tests. A few genetic variants matched up with the survey participants who experienced “hanger,” suggesting that some people are disposed based on their genes to feel this sensation.

This surprised researchers, who initially had expected to see a genetic link to the survey data around the metabolism. Meaning, if you are genetically predisposed to have a tough time regulating your blood sugar level that low blood sugar would affect your mood.

Instead, 23andme scientist Janie Shelton said, the two variants – on the vaccinia-related-kinase 2 and the exoribonuclease 1 genes – were linked with personality and neuropsychiatric conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia.

“The genes involved seem to be more related to pathways with our behavior and personality,” Shelton said.

Based on the survey data, women were more likely to report feeling irritable when hungry, as were people under 50.

Of course, our genes can only inform so much about our life. There seem to be other factors that play a role in feeling “hangry.”

A study of more than 200 college students published Monday in the journal Emotion found that feeling “hangry” instead of simply hungry could have a lot to do with a particular environment a person is exposed to, if they’re aware of their emotions, and how hungry they might be.