‘One of the healthiest thing a person can do in his life is fasting’
Billions of Muslims are fasting from dawn till dusk as part of their declaration of faith during Ramadan.
The intermittent type of fasting what we observe during the Ramadan is considered to be one of the healthiest lifestyles.
Medical benefits of Ramadan
- Physiological benefits
- Psychological benefits
- Spiritual benefits
The human cell is made up of protein, carbohydrates and lipid apart from water. Our body’s first order energy source/fuel is glucose when we starve brain gets the energy from ketone bodies instead of glucose. Ketone bodies are the simple form of lipid substances whereas glucose is a basic unit of carbohydrates.
Effect on our brain and nervous system
Our brain switches the energy source from glucose to ketone bodies in Ramadan, Muslims go through the cycle every day by fasting in daylight. Fasting teaches the cell to develop a new metabolic pathway to deal with cellular stress, enhance cognition, motor performance and protect the neurons from dysfunction and degeneration.
The same study gives some evidence-based benefits of fasting such stroke prevention, Alzheimer’s disease prevention, Parkinson’s disease prevention and stress-related injury to the brain and spinal cord and epilepsy are remarkably prevented by fasting.
How does fasting improve the memory and intelligence
This phenomenon was published in the Nature neuroscience as an intermittent metabolic switching mechanism which is a basic phenomenon of the brain to promote the intelligence and brain memory formation associated with the hippocampus (part of the brain) so parents without fear teach your kids to observe fasting.
Weight loss and insulin sensitivity
A study published in ‘Nature’ says, intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men compare to continuous energy restriction.
One of the publications in Lancet shows calorie restriction to 825 calories per day provides more efficiency in controlling the blood pressure in a hypertensive patient and sugar in a diabetic patient better than the conventional treatment.
The ‘primary care’ led weight management study supports the above-mentioned observation. In other words 46 per cent total cohort treated with only 825 calories per day for 3 to 5 months period shows 46 per cent total body weight loss.
The weight loss and resistant exercise are the cardinal steps to increase the insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes and reverse the metabolic syndrome in which insulin resistance continuously increases. Moreover, as the blood pressure reaches the borderline (140/90 mm Hg) and the triglycerides concentration increases along with waist circumference, 40 inches (100cm) in men and 35 inches (90cm) in women. The metabolic syndrome is proven to be related to cardiac problems. The body shape is described in metabolic syndrome as a male with apple shape and female with pear shape.
Many aspects of metabolic composition of blood improves with fasting related weight loss for instance the level of glucose in the blood, lipid components including triglycerides and Insulin. Meanwhile, the energy expenditure of the body decreases- breathing and heart rate slows down and blood pressure drops to optimum level and eventually the digestive system goes into the state of onset.
‘Overall the fasting improves our heart’s health’
The effect in our digestive system
Our digestive system contains the numbers of gut flora; these are a complex community of microorganisms. These microbes are mainly bacterias which play a key role in our metabolism and general health. It’s proven that fasting stage improves the gut flora thus improves the work efficiency of the digestive system.
Happy hormone secretion during fasting.
Another study proves the endorphin secretion (the happy hormone) increases during the exercise and fasting stages, it makes us happy so fasting can prevent depression.
In the state of starvation, the body triggers the sets of hormonal regulation and changes that metabolites the body’s reserves. This self-regulatory mechanism produces a therapeutic effect. Overall, well-being of the body improves.
Immunity enhancement with fasting
The Fasting stage boosts our immunity and enhances the healing ability of the body, this evidence base study promises us to have an additional protective layer from the current COVID 19 pandemic. The immunity improves with the increasing number of hours of fasting.
Fasting in cancer cells
Starvation (Fasting) is related to cancer prevention and enhance the chemotherapy treatment. One study shows fasting protects mice from the lethal DNA damage and also DNA get repairs rapidly after the fasting hours and the fasting stage relieves the oxidative stress of the body.
How to achieve healthy Ramadan
The purpose of Ramadan and its principal should be carefully maintained after breaking of fast (‘Futoor’) such as healthy diet habit at the time of breaking of fast and until dawn (‘Suhoor’) along with well-structured exercises.
The people on medication for chronic diseases such as diabetic, hypertension and dyslipidemia (cholesterol) should seek medical advices to modify their treatment and eligibility for observe fasting.
The plenty of water and fluid (healthy drinks) intake are one of the main streams to get rid of dehydration in the fasting hours.
The dawn meals are vital better to delay as much as possible and add some protein and fat in the ‘Suhoor’ platter which will sustain for a long time in the body and provide adequate strength to fast without much tired.
How to prevent the Ramadan related uneasiness
- Headache: Tension headache is the most common form of headache in the first week of Ramadan, it’s a band type across the forehead tend to come on during the day and worsen as the day goes on.
Here are some tips to prevent the tension-type of headache during the Ramadan
|Late ‘Suhoor’ meal ( ‘Sunnah’)
|Excess caffeine or alcohol
|Increase water intake during non-fasting hours
|Excessive noise, light, cold
|reading in low light
|Active lifestyle -example engage in well-structured exercises like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc in an appropriate time
|Excess screen time
Tips on Maintaining Oral Health during Ramadan
|Brush your teeth twice in Ramadan(After Suhoor and after Iftar) with a fluoride-containing toothpaste
|Use Tongue Scraper
|Floss your teeth thoroughly
|Speak to your dentist if you have a dental problem
|Increase the amount of water you consume during the non-fasting hours
|Take excess spicy and oily food in Suhoor time (better to avoid them)
- Speak to your dentist if you have a dental problem
If you have a dental problem during Ramadan and medications are needed, you can discuss it with your dentist. Your dentist may be able to adapt your medications and/or the dosage.
Tips to prevent the Ramadan related heartburn
Do not skip the ‘suhoor’ (dawn) meal avoid spicy and oily food you may add yoghurt and fruits in the meal if anyone is having gastritis, dyspepsia and chronic diseases get appropriate medical advice.
Maintaining your BMI (Basic metabolic index ) between roughly 21 to 25 is the important step to prevent most of the diseases and better for the healthy heart, if we carefully adhere to the principle of Ramadan not only we are going to get the spiritual benefits but also health benefits.
‘Ramadan makes mentally strong and teaches self control’
Ramadan and Diabetes
Diabetes is a special condition, the individual should understand the pros and cons of fasting. The best practice is 03 months before Ramadan starts, he/she should have undergone the trial of fasting to check the fasting related complications such as hypoglycemia (markedly decrease the blood glucose level), hyperglycemia (markedly increase the blood glucose level) and associated complication like hyperosmolar coma, diabetic ketoacidosis, dehydration and thrombosis (thickening of the blood) and get appropriate medical advices.
The modification of the insulin regime and drugs which enhances the insulin secretion are should be tailored according to each individual’s current diabetic control. Moreover, hypoglycemia (decrease blood glucose level) is a red flag whereas the blood sugar markedly falls and the patient starts to develop a headache, sweating, tremors, hunger and behavioural changes these symptoms may lead to coma and eventually this can kill the patient. So if the individual develops these type of symptoms with blood glucose level is lesser or equal to 70 mg/dl or 4mmol/l he or she should break the fast and should consume sugary drinks or sweets immediately.
Diabetes and Ramadan, this part is beyond the scope of this article, but this portion is inserted to bring awareness of the common diabetic complication during the fasting hours, but not for the management purpose. The Diabetic patients should well plan with their doctor about the eligibility criteria of fasting and its related complications, medication- dose adjustment and insulin regimes adjustment.
“Fasting is good for you if you (really) know”
Dhaman Health Assurance Hospitals
Sources: Patient.co.uk, lancet, American journal of food, Nature, TRT world, primary care. Dhaman Ramadan special unit, IDF & DAR, Mayo-clinic, Oxford handbook of General practice, recent webinars.