As the Ramadan is here the question always comes up among the educated lot that is the fasting beneficial or injurious for health. In this section we discuss both pons and cons of Fasting in Ramadan and fasting otherwise, leaving the decision for the reader =)
Month of Ramadan is about 29 or 30 days of mandatory fasting for billions of Muslims around the globe. Recently intermittent fasting has become popular among nutrition groups
Benefits of Fasting
There are many intermittent fasting plans for weight loss and diabetes control, 5:2 being the most popular one, in which one takes regular meals for five days followed by two days of fast in which they are allowed 500 calories only.
according to Dr Mosley of The Fast Diet books, this eating plan can not only help people lose weight but also offer an array of other health benefits.
“Studies of intermittent fasting show that not only do people see improvements in blood pressure and their cholesterol levels but also in their insulin sensitivity.” Dr Micheal Mosley.
In following we enumerate possible benefits of fasting.
Reduce Risk of Diabetes
Studies have confirmed that fasting (longer than eight hours) improves cellular intake of glucose and response to Insulin. After starvation the effectiveness of insulin increases.
This may help in reduction of insulin requirement in already diagnosed patients and also decrease the risk of developing diabetes in the high risk population.
Recently weight gain has become more dangerous health problem than any other, so much so that WHO has labeled an obesity epidemic!
Intermittent fasting has proven long tested way of weight reduction. Starvation for eight to ten hours mobilizes body fats and consumes up the stored glucose in the liver. This helps in reduction of harmful fats and regulates blood cholesterol levels. Dr Razeen Mahroof, of the University of Oxford in the UK, explains that consumption of fat for energy can help preserve muscle and reduce cholesterol levels.
Athletes now prefer intermittent fasting or water-only diet to hit the required low fat levels.
“A detoxification process also occurs, because any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body,” says Dr Mahroof.
As by starvation the fats are mobilized and the toxins stored in the fats get a way to blood and are removed by liver and kidney. Many people have fatty livers on their ultrasounds, which essentially means that liver is storing unwanted fat. This fat can be decreased by fasting.
Increase in Immunity
In a study conducted at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, by Dr Valter Longo and colleagues, found that longer periods of fasting (more than 2-4 days) may reboot the immune system. Clearing out the old immune cells and replacing them with newer ones. This process may help in treating the patients undergoing chemotherapy.
The team published a journal Cell Stem Cell they have explained this benefit in detail.
“When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged,” Dr Longo explains. He further continues “The good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system.”
Prophet PBUH said “Fast and be healthy” Surely he knew there are tremendous health benefits of fasting.
Ageing and Longevity
As stated above fasting helps removing damaged cells. This includes all kinds of damaged cell from immunity to skin. Studies have shown that once damaged cells have been removed they are replaced by newer ones.
This causes regeneration of new liver cells, immunity cells and even new skin cells, therefore decreasing the effects of ageing seen on the skin.
As many Muslims may claim that after Ramadan there is a glow on the faces of fasting group, that is scientifically proven new skin =).
Studies have also shown that people who eat less, live longer. Best examples are the tribes and cultures who have less eating habits, they have longest healthy life spans. Monks, for example, usually live longer than the average population, as they fast most part of the year.
Increased rate of Metabolism & Better Digestion
Fasting gives a rest time to the digestive tract, thus improving bowel mobility and increasing the metabolic rate. When one eats after eight to ten hours of fast, the system is more than ready to digest the intake. Also the absorption in blood is faster and so is uptake by cells, improving effectiveness if insulin and increasing metabolic rate. Therefore after a fast, eating helps lose weight!
Brain function improvement
Fasting promotes production of endorphin (happy hormones) and brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), both of which increase brain function, help promote brain stem cells to form new neurons and trigger production of chemicals that promote neural health.
BDNF have found to be protective against cell damage associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Hunger and Eating Habits
Eating after every three to four hours does not actually make us feel hungry. Going without food for about twelve or more hours may trigger hunger and other feedback patterns of brain. People with obesity and binge eating habits can not stop eating as their brain is not actually involved in the feedback chain.
After a period of starvation the body releases hunger hormones, thus when one eats there is regulation mechanism to signal when stomach is full.
Intermittent fasting can be beneficial specifically for people who can not take out time out of work to eat properly, they can fast the rest of day an fix a time to eat to avoid binge and snack eating habits, ultimately avoid obesity.
Clear Skin And Prevention of Acne
The removal of toxins stored in the body and fat also helps improve skin as the fat layer under the skin is detixified. As mentioned above regeneration process is also enhanced during fasting therefore the skin is regenerated. Acne is caused by clogged dead tissue in the pores of the skin, the regeneration helps removal of this dead tissue and decrease risk of further development of Acne.
With less eating or not eating at all for few hours results in extra time, the time that is consumed in planning and preparing a meal is spared, that time can be utilized for self grooming. Similarly digestive system consumes the largest share of energy in the body as compared to other systems. The energy saved by not eating is used by body for regeneration and refreshment of other systems.
Religious fasting prohibits consumption of all addictive things including smoking. Therefore people trying to drop out of habit of addiction, Ramadan is high time to get started.
Fasting in Ramadan: Spiritual Benefits
Adding on to all of the above bodily benefits, one can not overlook the benefit that is produced religiously. Not only Islam, almost all religions in the world have fasting rituals of some sort. In some they are limited to the priest only in others they are obligatory for all. Muslims believe and observe that the fasting in Ramadan brings increase in personal spirituality as well as helps decrease negative forces in once soul.
Hazards Of Fasting
As anything else in this world, nothing comes without negative effects. Below are listed some of the common hazards of fasting.
During the regular eating patterns much of the fluid requirement of body is replenished by foods that we take. By not eating and drinking at all there is water deficiency beyond the normal calculation. This may cause serious dehydration in people who do not consume proper water prior to fasting periods.
People accustomed to taking breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between meals, fasting may be very challenging. Not eating may result in disturbed sleep and increased levels of stress.
Hunger, stress and lack of sleep may trigger headaches in some people. This may be very important in the population already suffering from migraines. They are advised to visit their clinicians priop to starting any period of fasting.
Fasting decreases release of acid and other digestive juices in the body, at the same time during fasting periods sight of food or even thinking about food may trigger acid production. This causes typical heartburn experienced by certain group of people during fasting.
I hope this account will be helpful for fasting group, happy fasting =)