Have you been feeling frustrated and angry lately? Are you ready to flip your lid at a moment’s notice? If not you, perhaps this describes someone you know.
While being quick to anger can signify underlying mood disorders or mental/emotional stress, there is another sneaky – and perhaps more common – cause. If you fly into irritability with alarming ease, you may want to look at your “food swings”—those dicey moments throughout the day when blood sugar turns against you and turns you into your evil twin.
The connection between blood sugar and brain chemistry is complex and only partially understood. However, a few key connections have been established. There is a clear association between low blood sugar, elevated cortisol (a major stress response hormone) and low serotonin. Low blood sugar triggers the activation of our stress response system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The result of this activation is the elevation of cortisol, which attempts to raise blood sugar. Unfortunately, cortisol (also referred to as the “fight or flight” hormone) causes feelings of panic, anxiety, irritability and anger.
At the same time, low blood sugar is associated with low serotonin levels. Serotonin helps regulate mood (in general, it exerts a tranquilizing and calming effect). Serotonin also helps to control appetite. When serotonin is suppressed it can cause extreme mood swings and anxiety, as well as sugar and carbohydrate cravings. In addition, when the brain doesn’t have enough glucose, neurons don’t fire efficiently which can wreak havoc with our ability to think clearly. All of this culminates in moodiness and a strong urge to eat—usually simple carbohydrates (refined grains and simple sugars)—in an effort to quickly remediate blood sugar levels.
Prevention is the key to avoiding this cycle of carbohydrate binging and the mood roller coaster. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of low blood sugar so you can catch it before the bubbling anger, frustration and food cravings take over. Key symptoms of low blood sugar can include one or more of these:
- Blurred vision
- Inability to concentrate
If you experience these symptoms with any regularity, you may want to evaluate your diet to make sure that you are eating regular meals replete with protein, whole grains, vegetables, and healthy oils and that you are not relying upon pastries, cookies, and sugary snacks to get through the day. There are also a number of helpful dietary supplements for blood sugar control including trace minerals, B vitamins, and certain botanicals.
Preventing blood sugar drops will not only support your health, it will improve your brain chemistry. And in the process it may even improve the quality of your relationships. A recent study done by researchers at Ohio State University used voodoo dolls to illustrate this point (yes, voodoo dolls!).
Couples were each given a voodoo doll with 51 pins and told that the doll represented their spouse and they should poke pins in the doll based on how angry they were with their spouse. In the end, the participants who had the lowest blood sugar levels stuck more than twice as many pins in the dolls than the people with the highest blood sugar levels.
They then took their study one step further to see if low blood sugar impacted behavior. They had the couples play a computer game that blasted their spouse with a horrible noise. Sure enough, the people with low blood sugar did the most blasting.
Of course, in many cases, low blood sugar isn’t the only factor causing frustration and anger but it certainly is worth considering.
The Five to Thrive Plan has many strategies to help prevent and reverse low blood sugar. By focusing on all five core strategies—diet, dietary supplements, movement, rejuvenation, spirit—we can influence healthy blood sugar control. And, in the process, tempers can be tamed and relationships may be saved!