Eating May Help Ease Relationship Anger

Low blood sugar connected with anger between spouses

(RxWiki News) Couples married for a long time don’t often mention food when speaking of how they have kept the relationship going, but maybe they should.

Arguments may be avoided if neither spouse is hungry, according to new research.

The study showed that being angry was directly linked to having low blood sugar.

"Eat something to avoid feeling irritated with your spouse."

Lead author Brad Bushman, PhD, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, and colleagues conducted this recent study using married couples, glucometers and voodoo dolls.

Dr. Bushman and fellow researchers enrolled 107 married couples in a 21-day study looking at how angry spouses were with each other, and how glucose (blood sugar) levels played a part in that anger.

Participants started off by completing a relationship satisfaction questionnaire with 10 items about their satisfaction with their partner. They were presented with statements such as "I feel satisfied in my relationship" and a choice of answers, from strongly disagreeing to strongly agreeing. Each participant was also given a voodoo doll and 51 pins. Each evening, they were to put pins in the doll representing how angry they felt with their spouse. They could put in as many or as few as they wanted.

Each participant also was taught to use a glucometer (a machine that measures blood sugar levels using a drop of blood) and record their blood sugar levels in the morning and evening.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the angrier a person was with their spouse, the lower their blood sugar was at that time.

Low blood sugar indicates hunger, which can be remedied, the study authors noted.

At the end of the 21 days, the couples were brought into the lab for another test. They were told to press a red button and that they were competing against their spouse, who was in another room, for who could press the button faster. In reality, they were playing against a computer that let them win about half the time.

When the participant won, he or she could choose to blast their spouse with unpleasant noise, such as finger nails scratching across a chalkboard, for a varying period of time, at a varying noise level.

Those who were angriest blasted their spouse with the most noise for the longest period of time, but this was also tied with blood sugar levels.

The lower the blood sugar level, the angrier the person was at his or her spouse, and the more that spouse was bombarded with loud, nasty noise.

“Within the ethical limits of the lab, we gave these participants a weapon that they could use to blast their spouse with unpleasant noise,” Dr. Bushman said in a press release.

He explained how glucose and anger worked together. Dr. Bushman said that the self-control needed to deal with negative emotion takes energy, and that energy is provided in part by glucose. “Even though the brain is only 2 percent of our body weight, it consumes about 20 percent of our calories. It is a very demanding organ when it comes to energy,” he said.

His advice was also simple: to avoid arguing with your spouse, be sure you’re not hungry.

This study was published April 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors declared no competing interests.

Review Date: 
April 14, 2014