Ramadan and Fasting: Health Benefits

As we enter the last week of Ramadan month for 2015, we are reminded of what the fasting regimen is doing for 1 Billion practicing Muslims, and what that might mean for those non-Muslims interested in world’s growing enthusiasm for Intermittent Fasting.  Authors from the Department of Physiology and University Diabetes Center from the College of Medicine at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia, published a summary in the May Journal of Pakistan Medical Association.

Fasting during Raman usually means two meals — one large meal at sunset (Fatour) and a smaller breakfast (Suhoor, or Suhur) before Sunrise.  The authors note that the average person consumes 1220 calories a day during Ramadan and tend to lose about 2.0kg of weight, with women tending to lose more weight than males.

Red Blood Cells (RBC) decrease during the month, but return to normal afterwards. Studies vary on the impact to cholesterol during the fasting period, with many suggesting an increase in HDL and a lowering of LDL and triglycerides post-fasting.  The body has less circulating glucose during the fasting period, and measurements confirm better lower circulating insulin, which leads to increaded fatty acid release from fat cells and higher level of ketones.

Scientists found that fasting enhances parasympathetic activity — healing activity associated with lowering heart rates and stress.  In addition, inflammatory markers drop by suppressing cytokine and expression and the decreasing amount of body fat.

Many of the studies cited raise concerns about various conditions associated with dehydration.  This is one area where Ramadan practice is different from common forms of Intermittent fasting practiced in the non-Muslim world, where non-caloric liquids are not restricted.  The authors however indicate that healthy Ramadan fasters do not tend to have adverse effects of the heart, lung, liver, kidney, eyes, or on cognitive functions.

Several intermittent protocols are currently in vogue, including the 5:2 protocol (restricted calories two days of the week), and variations on Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains model, which generally suggest eating windows between mid-day and late evening, while fasting the remaining periods.

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