[Muslims break their fast on the first day of Ramadan outside Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. (Ravindranath K / The National)]
Ramadan is the ninth month of Islamic calendar having greater significance over rest of months as fasting is observed by Muslims in this month, worldwide. Fasting is one among the five pillars of Islam and is obligatory upon all Muslims. World’s other religions also recommend a period of fasting or abstinence, but one whole month of intermittent fasting every year is particular to Islam. Fasting is abstinence from eating, drinking from dawn to dusk and during fasting, smoking and sexual relations are forbidden too. As mentioned in the books of Hadiths, Fasting has many special spiritual benefits. Among these, the most important is that it is a way of controlling one’s desire. A person who abstains from permissible things like food and drink is likely to feel conscious of his sins and makes a person to focus more on devoting oneself to God.
However, the rules of Islam do not govern just the spiritual development of its followers, but also provides guidelines for their daily routine and influences physical health. Almost every Islamic practice carries health benefits apart from spiritual advantages and fasting is among one of them which has scientifically proven medical benefits.
Three fathers of western medicine, Hippocrates, Galen and Paracelsus prescribed fasting as greatest remedy and Physician within. The outstanding physicians called ‘Fasting’ as being; the medicine for the 21st century. Germany’s fasting therapist Dr. Otto Buchinger says; fasting is, without any doubt the effective biological method of treatment and describes it “Operation without surgery”. He furthers; therapeutically fasting cures many of our modern illness, including; allergies, cardiovascular diseases, diseases of the digestive system, glaucoma, degenerative and painfully inflammatory illnesses of the joints, initial malfunction of the kidneys, tension and migraine headaches, as well as skin diseases.
Kris Gunnars, the nutrition researcher after profound research, notes several evidence-based health benefits of intermittent fasting in his research journal. According to him, Fasting has powerful benefits for the body and brain, not eating for short-terms produces several things to happen in our body; Blood level of Insulin drops significantly facilitating fat burning. Fasting promotes cellular repair processes involving removal of wastes from the cells. It also enhances levels of growth hormone in the blood much as fivefold which induces fat burning and muscle gain. As per his findings, fasting helps to lose weight and belly-fat. Scientific studies reveal that fasting reinforces hormone action to facilitate weight loss. Lower insulin levels, increased amounts of nor-adrenalin, enhance breakdown of body fats that are utilized as energy. According to a 2014 review of the scientific literature, intermittent fasting can cause weight loss of 3-8% over 3-24 weeks, which is a huge amount. It was also found that people lost 4-7% of their waist circumference, which indicates that they lost lots of belly-fat, the harmful fat in the abdominal cavity that causes diseases.
It is known that various health markers (so-called “risk factors”) are associated with either an increased or decreased risk of heart disease. Kriss Gunars found, fasting impacts cardiac health by improving these risk factors, including blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides and blood sugar level and proves beneficial to cardiac health. A noted professor of endocrinology Dr. Fereidoun Azizi, mentions that fasting has an impact on Cardiovascular function. Although bradycardia and hypotension may occur during prolonged fasting, yet heart rate and blood pressure remain normal during the fasting and any deviation from normal functioning is not seen.
It has also been found intermittent fasting can reduce Insulin resistance, lowering risks of Type 2 Diabetes which is incredibly common in recent decades. Interestingly, intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance and lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels. In human studies on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3-6%, while fasting insulin has been reduced by 20-31 %. One study in diabetic rats also showed that intermittent fasting protected against kidney damage, one of the most severe complications of diabetes. What this implies, is that intermittent fasting may be highly protective for people who are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Fasting also reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Oxidative stress is one of the steps towards aging and many chronic diseases. Which involves unstable molecules called free radicals, which react with other important molecules (like protein and DNA) and damage them? Studies show that intermittent fasting may enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress. Additionally, studies show that intermittent fasting can help fight inflammation, another key driver of all sorts of common diseases.
Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist (kidney specialist) has written a landmark book “The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body through intermittent, Alternate-day and Extended Fasting” in which he elaborates the effect of intermittent fasting upon diabetes and kidney related problems and recommends fasting to renal and diabetic patients.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman mentions in “Fasting and Eating for Health”, that fasting has been found to alleviate neurosis, anxiety, and depression – Brain-related disorders. Findings suggest fasting improves various metabolic features known to be important for brain health. This includes reduced oxidative stress, reduced inflammation and a reduction in blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Several studies in rats have shown that fasting may increase the growth of new nerve cells, which should have benefits for brain function. It also increases levels of a brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), deficiency of which may lead to depression and various other brain problems. Animal studies have also shown that intermittent fasting protects against brain damage due to strokes. Animal studies also suggest that fasting may protect against other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. In addition to this, fasting has also been found to be influential in cancer treatment. There is also some evidence on human cancer patients, showing that fasting reduced various side effects of chemotherapy.
Moreover, studies in rats have shown that intermittent fasting extends lifespan. In some studies, the effects were quite dramatic. In one of them, rats that fasted every other day lived 83% longer than rats that did not. Despite it has not been proven in humans, intermittent fasting has become very popular among the anti-aging crowd. Given the known benefits of metabolism and all sorts of health markers, it makes sense that intermittent fasting could help you live a longer and healthier life.
In short, we can say, Ramadan is the blessing of Almighty Allah that not only cleanses us spiritually, but also benefits us to live a healthy life. And our claim, that Islam is the complete code of life is not a false or shallow, rather after going through the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) we find our claim has strong and provable groundings as it is this religion which guides a person on all fronts and in every sphere of life.
[Zeeshan Rasool Khan writes on current socio-political issues. Email: – Mohdzeeshan605@gmail.com. First pubdlished by CounterCurrents.org.]
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