Unlocking the Power of Fasting for a Healthier You
By Musa Sattar, UK
Ramadan is a month of reflection, prayer, and fasting for Muslims all over the world. As a parent, I was recently asked by my son if there are any health benefits alongside the spiritual benefits of Ramadan fasting. Intrigued by his question, I searched for scientific evidence to support this claim. I was amazed to discover that there’s a growing body of research on the health benefits of fasting beyond religious practice.
In this article, I will explore scientific studies that provide evidence for fasting’s health benefits, and discuss how you can apply these findings beyond the month of Ramadan to improve your health and wellness.
So, whether you’re a Muslim observing Ramadan or someone interested in exploring the benefits of fasting, read on to learn more about the surprising boosts to your health that fasting can bring.
Weight Loss and Improved Metabolic Health
Several studies have shown that fasting can lead to weight loss and improve metabolic health. A randomised controlled trial conducted by Krista A. Varady et al. found that alternate-day fasting (ADF) resulted in significant weight loss and improved metabolic markers in non-obese adults. A review article by Rafael de Cabo and Mark P. Mattson, neuroscientists at the National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, summarised the evidence supporting the health benefits of intermittent fasting, including improved glucose regulation and reduced inflammation.
Similarly, a study conducted by the Imperial College London Diabetes Center (ICLDC) and published in the journal Nutrients examined the effects of fasting during Ramadan on energy metabolism and overall health. The study suggests that time-restricted feeding during Ramadan, when carried out mindfully with attention paid to food type, quantity, and physical activity levels, may offer potential health benefits such as weight reduction.
In summary, research suggests that fasting in various forms has the potential to reduce body weight (3-7% on average), body fat (3-5.5 kg on average), total cholesterol (10-21%), and triglycerides (14-42%) in individuals across a range of weight categories, including normal-weight, overweight, and obese.
Protection Against Age-Related Diseases
Fasting has also been shown to protect against age-related diseases. In a study conducted by Sebastian Brandhorst et al., a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) improved markers of ageing, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease risk in healthy humans. Research published in journal Nature Aging by Longo et al., summarised the evidence supporting the protective effects of intermittent fasting against age-related diseases. A small study suggests that prolonged fasting (PF) may help reduce some of the negative effects that chemotherapy can have on the human body.
Improved Blood Sugar Control
Fasting has been shown to improve blood sugar control in individuals with diabetes. A research paper published in the journal Cell found that a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) helped mice with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes to produce more insulin. This led to better control of their blood sugar levels. Fasting on and off at regular intervals can help people with metabolic syndrome by improving their blood sugar and fat levels. This also helps to reduce insulin resistance according to a recent research published in International Journal of Endocrinology.
Fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. As Mark P. Mattson and his colleague in the journal Cell Metabolism discussed the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the health benefits of fasting, such as reduced oxidative stress and inflammation. Prolonged fasting (PF) can have positive effects on gut microbiota composition and immune function. The study published in American Journal of Physiology suggests, reducing the amount of nutrients drastically at regular intervals may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, encourage the production of useful substances, and bring about physical changes in the gut microbiome.
Improved Brain Function
Fasting has also been shown to improve brain function. A study on Intermittent fasting (IF) has been shown to have positive effects on brain-related diseases in animal studies. Although clinical studies are still in the early stages, it appears that IF does not have any short-term cognitive benefits for healthy individuals. However, there are indications that IF may help protect against the development of neurological disorders. Similarly, Valter D. Longo and Mark P. Mattson in their research found that a FMD improved markers of brain function in mice.
Applying the Benefits of Fasting Beyond Ramadan
While Ramadan is a time of religious observance, the benefits of fasting can be applied beyond this month to improve health and wellness. Here are some ways to continue and apply the benefits of fasting to your daily life:
Intermittent Fasting: Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of fasting and eating. There are several ways to practice intermittent fasting, including the 16/8 method (fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour window) or the 5:2 method (eating normally for 5 days and limiting calorie intake to 500-600 calories on 2 non-consecutive days). Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new dietary regimen.
Time-Restricted Feeding: Time-restricted feeding involves limiting food intake to a specific window of time each day, such as 12 hours or less. This can have potential health benefits including improved metabolic health and weight loss.
Fasting-Mimicking Diet: A FMD involves eating a low-calorie diet for a period of 3-5 days. This has been shown to have health benefits similar to water-only fasting, such as improved metabolic health and reduced inflammation. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting a FMD.
Mindful Eating: Mindful eating involves paying attention to the present moment when eating, and being aware of hunger and satiety cues. This can help prevent overeating and improve overall dietary habits. Incorporating mindfulness practices into daily life, such as meditation or yoga, can also have positive effects on mental and physical health.
Evidence from different scientific fields is emerging to show that fasting can provide many physical health benefits to different systems of the body. Despite the Holy Qur’an recognizing the advantages of fasting, there is still an ongoing area of research surrounding the scientific understanding of how fasting impacts the body. It is undeniable that fasting during Ramadan, as recommended by the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Holy Prophet (sa), offers significant spiritual and mental advantages. This practice offers a unique opportunity for refreshing our minds and refreshing our spirituality.
About the Author: Musa Sattar has an MSc in Pharmaceutical Analysis from Kingston University and also serves as the Assistant Manager of The Review of Religions and the Deputy Editor of the Science & Religion section.