While Muslims fast during Ramadan for the spiritual benefits and to please Allah (swt), the physical advantages of fasting are often overlooked. Current scientific research indicates that fasting has the potential to not only revitalize the immune system, but also enhance the cancer-curing effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients who are undergoing treatment. Additionally, fasting has been found to provide a range of other health benefits.
The month of Ramadan is approaching for Muslims in few weeks. Ramadan is a particular month for self-reflection, self-improvement, kindness, and spirituality, as fasting is regarded as one of the five pillars of Islam. It implies abstinence from eating, drinking, and smoking from dawn until dusk in terms of consumption. The duration of daily fasting can vary depending on geographic location and the timing of Ramadan. It can range from 10 to 19 hours.
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Is fasting for religious reasons only? More than 1,400 years ago, Muslims were instructed to fast during Ramadan, the ancient Greeks encouraged fasting to heal the body, and now, some scientists advocate a modified fast for the mental and physical benefits.
According to scientific research, fasting has numerous health benefits, including improved weight loss and greater cognitive performance. According to studies, the body can adjust to a fasting state with food intake. While fasting, the body relies less on acquiring nutrients from outside sources and more on recycling old cells through a process called autophagy.
How fasting works on body?
Let’s first highlight how fasting affects our body before we discuss the benefits.
During the month of Ramadan, there is a significant shift from typical eating patterns to eating only at night. Fasting removes body toxins and stimulates cells that don’t normally work when food is always available. The body enters a fasting condition eight hours after the last meal when the gut finishes absorbing nutrients. Fasting deprives the body from glucose, pushing cells to use alternate sources of energy.
The glucose deposited in the liver and muscles is the primary source of energy utilized by the body. As glucose is depleted, the body begins to burn fat for energy, and small amounts of glucose are also produced by other mechanisms in the liver. The liver converts non-carbohydrate substances such as lactate, amino acids, and lipids into glucose energy. Using fat for energy helps to lose weight and lower cholesterol. Later in the fast cycle, the body enters a state called ketosis, in which it uses fat stores for fuel instead of glucose. This is the perfect mode for weight loss and blood sugar regulation.
Benefits of fasting
Researchers have discovered that limiting food intake during the day can help prevent health issues including high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity, as well as improve mental health and wellness.
Blood sugar control:
Fasting helps control blood sugar by limiting insulin resistance. Several studies have demonstrated that fasting may boost blood sugar control, which may be particularly beneficial for people at risk for diabetes.
Researchers have found that inflammation might play a role in the development of long-term diseases like heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Fasting has been shown to improve health and reduce inflammation in several studies.
Lowers risk of coronary heart disease:
Fasting may improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels. Some evidence indicates that adding fasting into daily practice may be particularly good for the heart health. Several studies showed that fasting helped reduce total cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight compared to the control group. Alternate-day fasting can also considerably lower blood pressure, triglyceride, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Improve brain function and prevent neurodegenerative disorders:
U.S. researchers found that the mental discipline of Ramadan raises levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which in turn stimulates the body to manufacture more brain cells and improves cognitive performance. As fasting may also reduce inflammation, it may potentially contribute to preventing neurodegenerative disorders. Specifically, animal research indicates that fasting may protect against and improve chances for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Famous science journalist, Dr Michael Mosley said, “This (fasting) has been shown to protect brain cells and could reduce depression and anxiety, as well as the risk of developing dementia.”
Detoxify and weight loss:
Ramadan is an excellent cleanse for the body since it allows the digestive tract to cleanse and repair its lining. One’s digestive system is detoxifed throughout the month with fasting. When the body begins to metabolize fat reserves for energy, it also eliminates any potentially harmful poisons that may be present in fat stores. This body detox leaves a healthy blank slate behind and is the ideal stepping stone to a constantly healthy lifestyle. Fasting may enhance metabolism and help reduce body fat and weight.
Absorb more nutrients:
Throughout Ramadan, fasting enhances metabolism and nutrient absorption. This is due to an increase in the hormone named adiponectin, which is produced as part of a combination of fasting and eating late at night and enables the muscles to absorb more nutrients. This has a positive effect on the health of the entire body, as diverse parts are able to absorb and utilize the nutrients more efficiently.
Fasting and anti-ageing:
A Japanese study revealed that, in addition to accelerating the metabolism, fasting may also reverse the aging process. A joint study on ‘what exactly happens when the body goes without food’ was conducted by researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and Kyoto University, where they discovered that fasting increases 44 chemicals in the body, many of which have health benefits.
One of the researchers, Dr. Takayuki Teruya said, “These are very important metabolites for maintenance of muscle and antioxidant activity, respectively. This result suggests the possibility of a rejuvenating effect by fasting, which was not known until now”.
Benefit cancer patients:
A recent study conducted on mice with cancer has shown that fasting during chemotherapy can stimulate the immune system and help to identify cancer cells. The solution may involve eliminating old, harmful cells from the body and replacing them with new, healthy cells. This finding suggests that the traditional recommendation for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to increase their food and caloric intake may need to be reconsidered.
In conclusion, fasting has been practiced for centuries, and is a well-known practice in many cultures and religions around the world. Fasting has been shown to offer numerous health benefits. It is also important to note that fasting may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with underlying health conditions. It is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a fasting regimen.