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Health Benefits of Fasting

Health Care

, by DR. ANIS ANSARI

There are many benefits of fasting, not the least of which is the potential to improve one’s health. Fasting can be used to control one’s weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Malnutrition or inadequate calorie intake is not a major concern in Ramadhan. In fact, the total caloric intake by a fasting person is only slightly below the national requirement. The only difference between regular days and Ramadhan is the elimination of the lunch. Muslims get up before dawn to have an early small breakfast. They refrain from eating and drinking the rest of the day followed by breaking of the fast at sunset (traditionally with a date and water). After a whole day of fasting, the stomach which is supposed to be filled with acid may appreciate the alkaline and the neutralising power of dates and water.

Fasting can be used to improve Diabetic condition in some non-insulin dependent patients. The fast can actually improve insulin sensitivity. When the cells become sensitive to the effect of insulin, they do a much better job modulating blood sugar levels after meals. This may decrease the workload imposed on the pancreas which is responsible for insulin production. Loss of insulin sensitivity is a risk factor for both heart disease and diabetes.

A lot of people have embraced intermittent fasting as an anti-aging strategy. Research shows that when people skip a meal or stop eating for an entire day, they do tend to eat more at the next meal. But even if they allow themselves to eat as much as they want, they don’t quite make up for the calories they missed.  Fasting also reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in the cells. Many theorise that this can repair DNA damage that could otherwise lead to the development of cancer. In other words, fasting might help us live longer by keeping our organs youthful.

In his book Fasting as a Way of Life Allan Cott notes: “Fasting brings a wholesome physiological rest for the digestive tract, central nervous system and normalizes metabolism.” There are many other conditions which fasting has shown to improve, for example patients with mucous condition like the Common Cold, Flu, Asthma and Hay fever improve during fasting due to elimination of the mucus. Cholesterol deposits in the arteries and veins also tend to clear with fasting.

Fasting even for a few days causes the stomach to shrink back to its normal size and the feeling of hunger gradually fades away. When we go back to the normal diet, we won’t have exaggerated hunger and won’t overeat. Putting the digestive tract on rest can heal many inflammatory condition like Esophagitis, Gastritis, Colitis and Enteritis.

Fasting seems to break the addiction to harmful substance like Tobacco, Drugs, Alcohol, Tea and Coffee etc. Fasting leads our body to get rid of stored poisons, including addictive substances, and we lose our craving and develop tolerance for them. Therefore after fasting one may feel nauseated or have headache or experience vomiting, “nature’s purge” of addictive substances.

Ramadhan and Fasting have countless spiritual and many medical benefits; knowing these will help us take advantage of this month and prove that Ramadhan can be a month of healing for the mind as well as for the body.

[Anis Ansari, MD, is Board certified Internist/Nephrologist, Clinton, Iowa, USA.]

 



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