Ramadan: how does fasting affect our bodies?
Could fasting hold the key to better health?
For Muslims all around the world, the month of Ramadan involves fasting from dawn until dusk, which is considered a form of intermittent fasting. During this month, individuals consume a pre-dawn meal to begin their fast, and break their fast with another meal at sunset. Several scientific studies document that this form of fasting may yield significant health benefits, not only in the short-term, but also potentially in the long-term, too.
Fasting assists in reducing body weight and decreasing body mass index (BMI)
Due to a reduction in time spent eating during Ramadan, those fasting reduce both their energy and calorie intake. Total body fluids are also reduced, and the absorption of food and drink takes longer.
As a result, there is a reduction in the levels of glucose, as well as insulin – the hormone responsible for controlling levels of glucose – in the blood. These factors have been observed to assist in weight loss, helping an overall reduction in body mass index (BMI). Therefore, fasting on a regular basis can assist with long-term weight management, particularly when coupled with physical activity and a balanced diet.
Fasting helps prevent diabetes
Fasting may help to prevent diabetes by decreasing insulin resistance, increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake by cells, and decreasing lipolysis, which also assists with weight loss. Insulin resistance is a major cause of type 2 diabetes – and fasting reduces the levels of leptin in the blood, which reduces insulin resistance.
Fasting reduces inflammation and improves cardiac health
Fasting has been shown to decrease the levels of inflammatory markers and decrease the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This reduces the risk of inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. In addition to this, fasting also reduces cholesterol levels and lowers blood pressure, all of which improve overall cardiac health.
Fasting may reduce the risk of certain cancers
Fasting reduces the levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which is responsible for the regulation of cellular proliferation, growth and apoptosis. Additionally, higher circulating levels of IGF-1 are associated with increased risk of breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.
Maideen, N. M. P., Jumale, A., Alatrash, J. I. H., & Sukkur, A. A. A. (2018). Health benefits of Islamic intermittent fasting. Journal of Fasting and Health, 5(4), 162-171. DOI: 10.22038/jnfh.2018.30667.1111.
Weroha, S. J. & Haluska, P. (2013). IGF system in cancer. Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, 41(2), 335-350. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecl.2012.04.014.