Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Fasting And Its Health Benefits

Fasting And Its Health Benefits

Fasting for Muslims is more of a religious obligation than any other thing, that doesn’t, however, mean that other benefits cant be extracted from it. Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan every year and their way of fasting is very different from the medical or experimental ones. It is not just restraining from eating & drinking, it is lot more than that. The Quran states “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you so that you can learn Taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness)” [1] and the Prophet of Islam said “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting)”.[2]

Thus, we see that fasting in Islam doesnt just include skipping meals, it also includes refraining from any deceit in speech and action, abstaining from any offensive and indecent speech, avoiding arguing, fighting or having lustful thoughts.

Ramadan fasting reinforces control of whims and helps to build up good conduct. This decontamination of body and soul complements the personal and superficial spheres of a person. The extreme hunger and thirst shape the behavior and pattern of those who fast, it encourages humbleness and avoiding of sins and helps avoiding the outburst of uncontrollable lusts and desires. Since I am a student of Medicine, I would concentrate more on the medical benefits of fasting.

A lot of work has already been done on the subject of medical aspects of fasting. These include the works of Dr. Allan Cott, Fereidoun Azizi, Hossein Rasouli, Al Hazmi, Al Hourani and more recently by Dr. Shaheena Kamal, Dr. Rabinderjeet Singh, Kamal Mansi. The methods chosen by these people to study things related to fasting are different but their findings are almost similar. In following few paragraphs I will try to illuminate their findings.

Benefits Of Fasting

Impact of Fasting on the Digestive System:

The intestinal contraction decreases during fasting, [3] this benefits patients with spastic colitis and some other intestinal motility disorders. Dr. Cott writes in his “Fasting as a Way of life”,

“fasting brings a wholesome physiological rest for the digestive tract and central nervous system and normalizes metabolism.”[4]

Impact of Fasting on the Cardiovascular System:

The findings and researches show marked and significant increase in plasma level of HDL (high density lipoprotein also known as ‘Good Cholesterol’) in last 10 days of Ramadan.[5] HDL is a protective factor against development of heart and vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis and coronary heart diseases and also decreases the risks of heart attacks. Increase in HDL is thus a good news for heart and blood vessels. In an another survey, cholesterol, LDL- C and serum triglyceride were found to be reduced significantly after 21 days of fasting which again is good news for our heart and blood vessels. [6]

Impact of Fasting on Nervous System:

Recent researches and studies have revealed that fasting (short term fasting in particular) induces neuronal autophagy.[7] Autophagy, or “self-eating,” is the process by which cells recycle waste material, down regulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves. Our brain’s health itself is very much dependent on neuronal autophagy. Hence with the increase in autophagy our brain works more proficiently.

Additionally, short and intermittent fasting, like that of Ramadan, increases production of brain derived Neurotrophic factor (BNDF), a protein that interacts with parts of brain that regulate memory, learning and higher cognitive functions.[8] It helps existing neurons to survive while promoting neurogenesis and development of synapses. Recent studies also show that BNDF improves glucose regulation and cardiovascular function.[9]

Impact of Fasting on Senses:

The owner of one of the few fasting centers in USA, Dr. Ralph Cinque, a graduate from UCLA and Western States Chiropractic College, is also a founding member and past president of the International Association of Hygienic Physicians, he writes:

“Fasting increases the acuity of other senses as well, including hearing and smell, and sometimes even vision. Fasting can sharpen the mind too” [11]

Fasting Leads to Detoxification:

Our body breaks down & devours fat reserves for energy during fasting [12] which mobilizes and eliminates the toxins present in the fat deposits. This fact makes Ramadan a golden opportunity for Muslims to cleanse their bodies. Intermittent fasting also protects from environmental and metabolic toxins. [13]

Fasting and Nutrient Absorption:

The absorption of nutrients improves during fasting because of significant increase in level of a hormone called ‘adiponectin’.[14] The efficient absorption of nutrients leads to health benefits throughout the body, as better absorption of nutrients sequentially improves functioning.

Impact of Fasting on Body Weight:

Almost all the researches done in various parts of world show that the subjects fasting for almost a month loose weight from 1.5 to 4.0 kg. What is more interesting is that it has been found that overweight and obese people lose more weight than normal and underweight people. [15]

Fasting and Defense Mechanism:

Intermittent fasting leads to increase in the level of antioxidants like Mitochondrial Superoxide Dismutase. This prevents free radical induced cell damage. [16]

Impact of Fasting on Psychology:

Those who observe fasts during the month of Ramadan describe a feeling of inner peace and serenity. The personal aggression is minimum during this month. Studies reveal that intermittent fasting helps reducing stress as well. [10] The Prophet of Islam is reported to have said: “..and if somebody fights with him (the person who is fasting) or abuses him, he should tell him twice, “I am fasting”…” [17]

Fasting also leads to good deeds, since throughout the day, hunger reminds the person the reason he is fasting for. Since most of the people fast for the sake of religion, it reminds the person of religious obligations and hence leading to good deeds or avoiding of bad ones.

Ramadan fasting also improves resistance and can get rid of diseases and conditions like peptic ulcer, rheumatoid arthritis, edema of ankles and legs, swelling in abdomen, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, ischemic strokes, synaptic pathology, cancer, etc.

It is no wonder that in his ultimate wisdom , God says:

“…And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.…” (The Holy Qur’an)


1. The Qur’an 2:183
2. Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 127.
3. Sana SK. Cyclic motor activity, migrating motor complex. Gastro – enterology 1985;89:894 -9
4. Cott, A., “Fasting Is A Way Of Life”, New York: Bantam Books, 1977.
5. Maislos M, Khamaysi N, Assali A, Abou-Rabiah Y, Zvili I, Shany S. Marked increase in plasma high-density lipoprotein cholesterol after prolonged fasting during Ramadan. Am J Clin Nutr 1993;57:640-2..
Adlouni A, Ghalim N, Benslimane A, Lecery JM, Saile R. Fasting during Ramadan induces a marked increase in HDL and decrease in LDL-cholesterol. Ann Nutr Metab 1997 ;41:242-9
6. Aziz, K. ;Raja, R. J. ;and Marri, S. H. Variation in lipid profile during fasting in Ramadan in healthy male adults –J. P. M. A, 1992; 42 (10): 242-3.
7. Young JE, Martinez RA, La Spada AR. Nutrient deprivation induces neuronal autophagy and implicates reduced insulin signaling in neuroprotective autophagy activation. J Biol Chem. 2009;284:2363–2373.[PMC free article] [PubMed]
8. Mattson MP (2005) Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective. Annu Rev Nutr 25, 237-260.
9. Duan W, Guo Z, Jiang H, Ware M and Mattson MP (2003) Reversal of behavioral and metabolic abnormalities, and insulin resistance syndrome, by dietary restriction in mice deficient in brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Endocrinology 144, 2446-2453
10. Mager DE, Wan R, Brown M, Cheng A, Wareski P, Abernethy DR and Mattson MP (2006) Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting alter spectral measures of heart rate and blood pressure variability in rats. FASEB J 20, 631-637.
12. . Rehman. Jamil ur ; Shafiq Mohammad. Changes in blood glucose and lipid profile during Ramadan fasting. JAMC 2000. vol 12 : page 13-15
13. Steinkraus KA, Smith ED, Davis C, Carr D, Pendergrass WR, Sutphin GL, Kennedy BK and Kaeberlein M (2008) Dietary restriction suppresses proteotoxicity and enhances longevity by an hsf-1-dependent mechanism in Caenorhabditis elegans. Aging Cell 7, 394-404.
Hfaïedh N, Allaqui MS, Croute F, Soleilhavoup JP, Jammoussi K, Makni Ayadi F, Kammoun A and El Feki A (2005) [Interaction of intermittent fasting on the cytotoxic effects of nickel in rats at puberty]. C R Biol 328, 648-660.
Hfaiedh N, Allagui MS, Carreau S, Zourgui L, Feki A and Croute F (2008) Impact of dietary restriction on peroxidative effects of nickel chloride in wistar rats. Toxicol Mech Methods 18, 597-603.
14. Kadowaki T, Yamauch T. Adiponectin and adiponectin receptors. Endocr Rev 2005;26:439–51.
15. Takruri HR. Effect of fasting in Ramadan on body weight. Saudi Med J 1989; 10:491-4.
16. Descamps O, Riondel J, Ducros V and Roussel AM (2005) Mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species and incidence of age-associated lymphoma in OF1 mice: effect of alternate-day fasting. Mech Ageing Dev 126, 1185-1191.
17. Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 118

By Fuzail Ahmad

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