Dear Doctor, is fasting good for your health?

We probably all know someone who is observing the fasts during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Fasting is a common practice in lots of religions. So surely there must be some health benefits to this practice or is it all just purely spiritual?

As I am currently getting through another long day of fasting, I would like to share some of the health benefits that fasting has been shown to provide.

From personal experience the day time isn’t too bad for me, it’s only by lunch time that I am starting to feel the fast. My main day time issue is the lack of caffeine, but as I spend the other 11 months of the year saying I need to cut down on tea and coffee, it’s probably not a bad thing to detox.

If you eat sensibly and drink plenty of water at night time it is definitely doable. It is not actually as hard as it sounds but it is not easy either, definitely a mind over matter sort of task. The hours are long when fasting is in the summer months but then on the other hand, days are really short when Ramadan falls over winter months. I think over the month you do feel your body becoming healthier and stronger.

Intermittent fasting between set hours of the day, when done over a set period of time, has been shown to make several changes in the body. Lots of research has been going on recently and is continuing to be carried out on this topic. The overriding outcome is that intermittent fasting can actually be good for your health. Now let’s talk some science…

The body enters fasting mode about 8 hours after the last meal. At this time the digestive system is rested. Cells in the body begin to repair themselves. Gene expressions in the cells begin to repair too deleting faulty genes.

Growth hormone levels increase again promoting self repair, fat burning and muscle gain. Insulin levels drop as glucose levels drop, which in turn improves insulin resistance helping to fight off diabetes, particularly in men. A drop in insulin levels also helps us to burn off fat. Blood pressure drops when fasting too. Triglycerides a component of fats in the blood also reduce over the month.

Increased metabolism develops over the month as your body learns to quickly break down food when it’s eaten after a fast. The increase can be between 3-14%. Lastly weight loss is also possible as the body breaks down sugars and fats over the month, and continues for some time after fasting ceases. One study has shown that intermittent fasting reduces weight but also causes less muscle loss than constant calorie reduction.

All of these benefits do depend on your diet and lifestyle though. I know some people who binge eat at night time, gaining weight and feeling bloated throughout the month which is not ideal.

Also to note is that fasting, whether religious or not, can help your health however it should not be done if you have health conditions or require medication that would make it unsafe.

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