Low blood sugar makes couples more aggressive
Study participants were asked to stick pins in a voodoo doll that represented their spouse to measure aggression.
April 14th, 2014
03:02 PM ET

Low blood sugar makes couples more aggressive

You've heard the term "hangry," right? People who are hungry often report being unreasonably angry until they're fed.

"Hangry" is a relatively new buzz word, but science is backing it up. A new study published in the journal PNAS suggests married couples are more aggressive when they have low blood sugar levels.


Everyone gets upset at their spouse or significant other sometimes. But self-control hopefully prevents you from taking that anger out on them in a physical manner.

Yet scientists know that self-control is a limited resource. You have a tank of it, so to speak, in your brain. Each time you use self-control to avoid telling off your boss or to skip the dessert bar, that tank becomes less full.

And "aggression often starts when self-control stops," says Brad Bushman, a psychologist at Ohio State University who's studied aggression for 25 years.

What refills your self-control tank? Energy, which comes in part from the food you eat.

The study

Researchers recruited 107 married couples to participate in the study. The husbands and wives measured their glucose (or blood sugar) levels every morning and night for 21 days.

Each night they were asked to stick up to 51 pins in a voodoo doll, depending on how angry they were at their spouse. The researchers compared this aggression level to the participants' average glucose levels over the study period.

At the end of the 21 days, researchers had the couples come into the lab for another test. They asked each husband and wife to compete against their significant other in a virtual game. The couples were told the winner got to blast the loser with a loud, obnoxious noise. (In reality, their partner was not on the receiving end.)

Researchers measured how long and how intense the winner chose to blast the noise, and compared that aggression level to their average blood sugar level.

The results

Study participants with lower nightly blood sugar levels were more aggressive - both in "pinning" their voodoo doll and in blasting their partner with a louder noise for longer. These findings remained true even after researchers controlled the data for relationship satisfaction.

More evidence

This study supports previous research done by Bushman's lab at Ohio State University. In an earlier study, Bushman and his colleagues found participants who drank a sugar-sweetened beverage behaved less aggressively than those who drank a beverage sweetened with a sugar substitute.

Another study linked diabetes to more aggressive behavior. Because glucose increases self-control, people who have difficulty metabolizing glucose should have less self-control, the researchers theorized.

In a separate series of studies, Bushman showed diabetics were less inclined to forgive others. "These findings provide the first evidence that forgiveness depends on how efficiently the body uses glucose," the study authors wrote.


The study authors say giving people more access to food could reduce aggression in certain settings, such as prisons or psychiatric hospitals. As for the rest of us:

"I would recommend couples discuss sensitive issues over dinner," Bushman said. "Or better yet, after dinner."

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. rlj

    I think any kind of stress makes you irrtable, and low sugar makes you stressed, you don't feel well, and that makes you irrtable and more aggressive.

    April 14, 2014 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RJ Hearons

    This article contains an error. The name of the school is THE Ohio State University

    April 14, 2014 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Slow down

      Oh fer the love of skippy...you need a definite article that much?

      April 14, 2014 at 22:30 | Report abuse |
    • Slow down

      Have an apple, you'll feel better.

      April 14, 2014 at 22:31 | Report abuse |
    • John Connelly

      We all know it's Big-ass-public-university "Ohio State" for God's sake. The university marketing department aside, who on earth cares whether or not someone includes the The.

      April 14, 2014 at 23:48 | Report abuse |
    • Brutus

      Chill out folks, they are obviously just a proud alumnus at OSU and was not being entirely serious about it being an error. It's just a school pride thing.

      April 15, 2014 at 03:43 | Report abuse |
    • Mattd

      Well it was "THE Ohio..." until "GO FLYERS"

      April 15, 2014 at 08:32 | Report abuse |
    • JC

      Is that what they call Dayton now that they own the other has been school?

      April 15, 2014 at 09:17 | Report abuse |
    • Spenser Amadeus

      Obviously, most people who replied to your message failed to see the sarcasm.

      April 16, 2014 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
  3. moose

    I would ask for more pins,been dieting a few months and my Husband drives me crazy! On second thought........a couple more dolls also! lol

    April 14, 2014 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ForsythiaBlooms

    I read my husband this headline. Before I'd even gotten to the meat of the article (which I did read him), he said, "No s***. They needed research for this?"

    P.S. I'm a hypoglycemic with Insulin Resistance Syndrome. We KNOW when my blood sugar is low by my behavioral and other changes... Guess which emotion is most evident during periods of hypoglycemia? ;)

    April 14, 2014 at 21:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. byrdsoup

    This is why it is so hard to diet and try to lose weight while in a committed relationship or marriage. Every time I cut back on calories to try to lose a few pounds, the house becomes chaos, with my irritability. I just want to keep the peace. Life is too short to be hangry all the time. I don't like being mean to my husband, but when I'm in weight-loss mode I just want everyone to leave me the F alone. This does not make for a happy household.

    April 14, 2014 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bldrrepublican

      So go ahead and pig out on everything in the house...

      See how long you have a 'household' after that.

      (Hey, I didn't make up the rules, I just know them).

      April 15, 2014 at 00:17 | Report abuse |
    • KBNJ

      Exercise and moderation.
      Helps with the mood issues AND the weight loss.
      And don't give up – pay me now or pay me later!

      April 15, 2014 at 08:25 | Report abuse |
    • Spirit

      I hope you know there are healthy foods out there that raise your blood sugar levels. Don't use your irritability as an excuse to eat badly.

      April 15, 2014 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
  6. BigLars

    Sounds like lack of self-control to me. People who know they get overly irritable when they're really hungry need to learn to self-medicate. Like the new Snickers ads, just keep snacks handy, so you're not a jerk to those around you.

    April 14, 2014 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. amonmouse

    Snickers is right! You're not yourself when you're hungry! (You're Robin Williams)

    April 14, 2014 at 22:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. shirodx

    Now I know why my wife is such a B!#$H to me all the time.

    April 14, 2014 at 23:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Lila

    I can go for long periods of time without eating and not have any effects, but man, if my husband misses two meals he becomes a whiny bear. Not aggressive, but real whiny, short, agitated, roaring constantly about how hungry he is. He stays that way until we can find food to feed him.

    April 14, 2014 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 123elle

      My husband was the same way. He got totally crabby and short-tempered when he was hungry. I knew that wasn't really "him," and he couldn't help it. So I made sure he had little snacks that weren't high in calories but were attractively presented so he didn't get tempted to cram candy or something. He would change like magic as soon as his blood sugar was on the rise. I didn't mind; he was a good guy.

      April 15, 2014 at 01:04 | Report abuse |
  10. Mark

    More voodoo science.....all to support continued research and development for medications to CONTROL, not CURE type 2 diabetes.....come on people.....we've seen cures for other more serious diseases here in the last 10 years....Why have we not seen one for Type 2 diabetes? I'll tell you why.....because if they came out with a cure, then the food industry wouldn't have a reason for pushing all those sugary snacks and sodas off on the American public to get them addicted....then after years of exposure, basically shutting down a part of the human body, the pancreas.....then the medical community gets its cut......remember, nothing gets past the FDA without years (and millions of dollars) of research....That's the GOVERNMENT"S cut.....Then the medical community prescribes all these 'wonder drugs' that LOWER your blood glucose level...not reverse all those years of effects.....and the cost goes ever higher to the patient who is really the only loser in this whole process....because the GOVERNMENT continues to over tax people's incomes (at least those of us who stay healthy enough to WORK!) until we get to a point where we end up on a fixed income and then have to decide between food and medicines....all the while the GOVERNMENT has already moved on to the next generation for their tax revenues, potential addiction and eternal enslavement to the Government machine!

    April 14, 2014 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Spenser Amadeus

      When you have diabetes, your blood sugar is too HIGH and you need to bring it down. You're not allowed to eat candy. If the candy industry were controlling whether diabetes is cured, they'd insist upon a cure ASAP so that all of the diabetics who CANNOT eat candy would get better so they could start spending money on candy.

      April 16, 2014 at 15:20 | Report abuse |
    • JGN

      Your 'facts' are a bit off but really the problem seems to be that you really really need a voodoo doll to pinpoint your 'hangriness' towards the government. Clue; the government is not a person, nor is it even one organization.

      April 18, 2014 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
  11. Mack Highest

    We used to use the word "peckish" to describe the feeling of being both hungry and irritable.

    Nothing new under the sun.

    April 15, 2014 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. dike

    Another study shows Obese couples who are eating all the time and full are getting along good.

    April 15, 2014 at 00:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. ladeedaadeedoo

    uh mark, after all that ranting & raving, perhaps YOU would benefit from eating something sweet.get a handle on that 'hangry' man.not healthy.and to the ladies with the whiny husbands, don't the husbands know how to get up & get their own food?maybe being treated like an infant makes them act like an infant.just saying.

    April 15, 2014 at 01:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. tiredofpc

    On a bad day at work, went upstairs to try & get some admin help from the dept secretary. She took one look at me and held up a bowl of M&M's.....and it worked!

    April 15, 2014 at 02:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. BD70

    They needed a study to determine people get nasty when they are hungry?

    April 15, 2014 at 05:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. buzz

    buzz words get ridden to death by people trying to sound "in the know"...speak English...

    April 15, 2014 at 07:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Paul c

    Nowhere in this article does it suggest the wife have a home cooked meal ready and waiting for her husband when he comes home from a long days work.

    April 15, 2014 at 07:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Hogan's Goat

    My wife gets grouchy when she's hungry, but sticking pins in a doll? Blasting with noises? Who the frack was in these studies, Archie and Edith? I would NEVER do that kind of stuff to my beloved, blood sugar or no blood sugar.

    April 15, 2014 at 08:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Hogan's Goat

    Sounds like half the comments here are from junior high kids waiting for the bus. Do your homework, kids. This is grownup stuff.

    April 15, 2014 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Gary

    What makes me laugh about this is the article right next to this one is about a married woman who quit sugar and lost weight and is happy with her husband... So? Which is it CNN? It's like everything else now a days, pit two sides so both seem the wrong or right side depending on perspective.

    April 15, 2014 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. janer52

    another excuse for people to be angry. lovely

    April 15, 2014 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. beanstalked

    Sometimes hungry crying infants seem to become downright desperate. Were supposed to grow up and put our attention on things other than food all day. But I'm not sure those primitive feelings just disappear.

    April 15, 2014 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Arfa

    This is why I don't date fat chicks.

    April 15, 2014 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tom Frab

    Nothing a hand job & a cookie couldn't handle.

    April 15, 2014 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. normal age

    My husband is verbally agressive before AND after eating

    April 15, 2014 at 21:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. normal age

    My hubby is verbally agressive before AND after eating

    April 15, 2014 at 21:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Rod C. Venger

    It's why fat people are perceived as being jolly

    April 16, 2014 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. rr

    Everybody knows babies are cranky when they're hungry. Why would adults be any different?

    April 16, 2014 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. JGN

    Does anyone else find it hilarious that they actually used voodoo dolls for this 'research'?

    April 18, 2014 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. KBNJ

    Why? Knives are cheaper and more satisfying.

    April 15, 2014 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Esaias

    Actually, many of the points describe Democrats. They're usually blue-collared buffoons.

    April 16, 2014 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Esaias

    How do you inject politics in an article that is apolitical? Sounds like you have been drinking too much of the Democratic Kool-Aid.

    April 16, 2014 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.