During the Holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. While the purpose of this fast is mainly spiritual, there are potential health benefits to be considered. There is growing research to suggest that abstaining or reducing food and drink intake for short periods of time – referred to as intermittent fasting – can have positive effects on the body including weight loss, detoxification, reduced cardiovascular risks, and reduced risk of diabetes.
1. Burning Fat
The body takes energy from food. Once the food is broken down into usable parts (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), the body uses some energy and stores the rest. Even though a person stops eating or drinking at dawn during Ramadan, the body continues to run on the fuel from their last meal for about eight hours, until the digestion process is complete. Once all the nutrients have been absorbed, the body begins to use glucose stored in the liver and muscles for energy. When these stores have been used up, and no additional nutrition has been consumed, the body begins to burn fat.
2. Taking Out the Toxins
While fasting, the body breaks down and recycles unnecessary cells. This leads to the elimination of toxins stored in fat and other places. This process is linked with reduced inflammation and the potential to slow disorders of the brain and nervous system.
3. Helping the Heart
In addition to obesity, abnormal levels of lipids (fats) in the blood are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Some types of fasting have been shown to reduce triglycerides (a type of lipid) by 17%–50% and total cholesterol by 15%–20%. Studies also indicate that fasting can provide the same improvements in blood pressure and heart rate that are seen with physical exercise. These are great heart healthy benefits when combined with weight and fat loss.
4. Deflecting Diabetes
Researchers found that after 10-12 hours of fasting, the body begins to pull LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol) from fat cells and uses it for energy. This process can help to combat insulin resistance, a condition in which the body produces insulin but can’t use it effectively, causing blood glucose levels to be elevated. Insulin resistance is a risk factor leading to diabetes.
It is important to keep in mind that these results were obtained under controlled circumstances, with specific methods of fasting and food intake. If you are interested in learning more or you have questions about the health benefits of fasting, it is best to speak with your doctor.