8 Health Benefits of Fasting: Evidence-Based

“You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you be mindful of God” (2:183)



Ramadan is a powerful month-long reset button with ups and downs - but most importantly: self-renewal and self-discovery. Not only does fasting in Ramadan immensely benefit us spiritually, but it also has countless health benefits!


‘The job of fasting is to supply the body with the ideal environment to accomplish its work of healing’

1. AUTOPHAGY


A fancy word for cleaning out damaged cells.


When we fast, our cells initiate cellular repair processes, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells (1,2).


Why is autophagy important?

  • Removes toxic proteins from the cells that are attributed to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (3) (fasting increases the brain hormone BDNF and may aid the growth of new nerve cells).

  • It provides energy and building blocks for cells that could still benefit from repair (4).

  • On a larger scale, it prompts regeneration and healthy cells (4).

  • Autophagy is also receiving a lot of attention for the role it may play in preventing or treating cancer. (5).


In short, by stimulating autophagy: it clears out old, unwanted cellular materials and proteins, and regenerates fresh cellular material and fuels up cell renewal.


2. PROTECTS AGAINST TYPE 2 DIABETES AND REDUCES INSULIN RESISTANCE


Several studies have shown that fasting can prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes, insulin sensitivity improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically (6, 7, 9).


More specific research on fasting in Ramadan has shown that Ramadan fasting practiced by patients with type 2 diabetes for 15–21 days leads to a statistically and clinically significant reduction in haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels of approximately 0.5 points, suggesting that glycaemic control is improved substantially during Ramadan fasting in this population (8).


3. WEIGHT LOSS


Fasting can be a very powerful weight-loss tool.


During a fast, your cells switch from using glucose as their primary fuel source to using fat. Thus, fat stores, chiefly triglycerides, get burned up for energy. This is why research has found that fasting leads to weight loss, as well as an improved cardiovascular disease risk profile (10-13).


4. REDUCES INFLAMMATION


Chronic inflammation is problematic as the body struggles to turn off the inflammatory response and it can start damaging healthy tissues as well. Chronic inflammation can be the key driver of many chronic diseases such as diabetes (14), heart disease (15), gut issues (16), depression (17) and arthritis (18).


Several studies have shown that fasting reduces the inflammatory status of the body by suppressing pro-inflammatory substances and decreases body fat and circulating levels of white blood cells (leukocytes) (19, 20) reducing inflammation in the body.


5. IMPROVES HEART HEALTH


Fasting improves multiple indicators of cardiovascular health, including blood pressure; levels of high-density and low-density lipoprotein (HDL and LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin; and insulin resistance (21).


In addition, fasting reduces markers of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress that are associated with atherosclerosis (31).


6. IMPROVES GUT HEALTH


Gut bacteria play an essential role in regulating your mood, protecting your immune system, and getting the most nutrition out of your food. Fasting may help protect your gut microbiome. And in turn, those bacteria could help protect your body while you're fasting.


Scientific research is revealing that fasting may restore microbe diversity in the gut, increase tolerance against ‘bad’ gut microbes, and restore the integrity of the gut lining (intestinal epithelium) (22-24).


7. REDUCES NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES


When your body uses fat stores for energy, it releases fatty acids called ketones into the bloodstream.


Ketones play a role in weight loss, but they have also been shown to preserve brain function, even offering some security against epileptic seizures, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders (25). Such benefits may occur because ketones help trigger the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which strengthens neural connections, particularly in areas involved in memory and learning (26).


8. IMPROVES IMMUNITY


A study found that fasting lowered white blood cell counts, which in turn triggered the immune system to start producing new white blood cells (27). White blood cells (lymphocytes) are a key component of your body’s immune system. Once you start eating again, according to this study, your stem cells kick back into high gear to replenish the cells that were recycled (27).


Similarly, fasting is thought to impair energy metabolism in cancer cells, inhibiting their growth and rendering them susceptible to clinical treatments (28-30).


BOTTOM LINE:


Fasting is truly a blessed Divine Prescription and a renewal opportunity like non-other for the body. As you can see, studies have shown that fasting has broad-spectrum benefits for many health conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and neurologic disorders.


As believers, we need healthy bodies and minds in order to worship Allah in the correct way, and fasting empties us of physical nourishment so that we can attend to and fill other important facets of our lives.⁣⁣


References:

1. Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy, 6(6), 702–710.


2. Kim I, Lemasters JJ. (2011) Mitochondrial degradation by autophagy (mitophagy) in GFP-LC3 transgenic hepatocytes during nutrient deprivation.Am J Physiol Cell Physiol.;300(2):C308-17.


3. Wolfe DM1, Lee JH, Kumar A, Lee S, Orenstein SJ, Nixon RA. (2013). Autophagy failure in Alzheimer's disease and the role of defective lysosomal acidification. Eur J Neurosci. Jun;37(12):1949-61.


4. Condello, M., Pellegrini, E., Caraglia, M., & Meschini, S. (2019). Targeting Autophagy to Overcome Human Diseases. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(3), 725.


5. Galluzzi, L., Pietrocola, F., Bravo-San Pedro, J. M., Amaravadi, R. K., Baehrecke, E. H., Cecconi, F. Kroemer, G. (2015). Autophagy in malignant transformation and cancer progression. The EMBO journal, 34(7), 856–880.


6. Ruth E. Patterson and Dorothy D. Sears. (2017). Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting. Annual Review of Nutrition 37:1, 371-393


7. Mattson, M. P., Longo, V. D., & Harvie, M. (2017). Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing research reviews, 39, 46–58.


8. Yeoh EC, Zainudin SB, Loh WN, Chua CL, Fun S, et al. 2015. Fasting during Ramadan and associated changes in glycaemia, caloric intake and body composition with gender differences in Singapore. Ann. Acad. Med. Singap. 44:202–6


9. Barnosky AR1, Hoddy KK2, Unterman TG1, Varady KA. (2014). Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Transl Res. 2014 Oct;164(4):302-11.


10. Cioffi I1, Evangelista A2, Ponzo V3, Ciccone G2, Soldati L4, Santarpia L1, Contaldo F1, Pasanisi F1, Ghigo E3, Bo S5. Intermittent versus continuous energy restriction on weight loss and cardiometabolic outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Transl Med. 2018 Dec 24;16(1):371.


11. Mattson, M. P., Longo, V. D., & Harvie, M. (2017). Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing research reviews, 39, 46–58. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2016.10.005


12. Johnstone A1. Fasting for weight loss: an effective strategy or latest dieting trend? Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 May;39(5):727-33.


13. Varady KA1. Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss? Obes Rev. 2011 Jul;12(7):e593-601.


14. Kathryn E. Wellen, Gökhan S. Hotamisligil. Inflammation, stress, and diabetes (2005). J Clin Invest. 2005;115(5):1111-1119


15. Chamorro A, Hallenbeck J. The Harms and Benefits of Inflammatory and Immune Responses in Vascular Disease. Stroke. 2006 Feb; 37(2): 291–293.


16. Sturgeon, C., & Fasano, A. (2016). Zonulin, a regulator of epithelial and endothelial barrier functions, and its involvement in chronic inflammatory diseases. Tissue barriers, 4(4), e1251384.


17. Dowlati Y, Herrmann N, Swardfager W, Liu H, Sham L, Reim EK, Lanctôt KL. (2010). A meta-analysis of cytokines in major depression. Biol Psychiatry. 1;67(5):446-57.


18. Khanna, S., Jaiswal, K. S., & Gupta, B. (2017). Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis with Dietary Interventions. Frontiers in nutrition, 4, 52.


19. Faris MA1, Kacimi S, Al-Kurd RA, Fararjeh MA, Bustanji YK, Mohammad MK, Salem ML. Intermittent fasting during Ramadan attenuates proinflammatory cytokines and immune cells in healthy subjects. Nutr Res. 2012 Dec;32(12):947-55.


20. Aksungar FB, Topkaya AE, Akyildiz M. Interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and biochemical parameters during prolonged intermittent fasting. Ann Nutr Metab. 2007;51(1):88-95.


21. Varady KA1, Bhutani S, Church EC, Klempel MC. Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Nov;90(5):1138-43. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28380. Epub 2009 Sep 30.


22. Moreira AP, Texeira TF, Ferreira AB, Peluzio MCG, Alfenas RCG. 2012. Influence of a high-fat diet on gut microbiota, intestinal permeability and metabolic endotoxaemia. Br. J. Nutr. 108:801–9


23. Shen J, Obin MS, Zhao L. 2013. The gut microbiota, obesity and insulin resistance. Mol. Asp. Med.34:39–58


24. Tilg H, Kaser A. 2011. Gut microbiome, obesity, and metabolic dysfunction. J. Clin. Investig. 121:2126–32


25. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Dangelo, K., Couch, S. C., Benoit, S. C., & Clegg, D. J. (2012). Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment. Neurobiology of aging, 33(2), 425.e19–425.e4.25E27.


26. Mattson, M. P., Moehl, K., Ghena, N., Schmaedick, M., & Cheng, A. (2018). Intermittent metabolic switching, neuroplasticity and brain health. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 19(2), 63–80.


27. Chia-Wei Cheng, Gregor B. Adams, Laura Perin, Tanya B. Dorf, John J. Kopchick, Valter D. Longo. (2014). Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression. VOLUME 14, ISSUE 6, P810-823.


28. Harvie M, Howell A. Energy restriction and the prevention of breast cancer. Proc Nutr Soc 2012; 71: 263-75. 62.


29. Klement RJ, Champ CE. Calories, carbohydrates, and cancer therapy with radiation: exploiting the five R’s through dietary manipulation. Cancer Metastasis Rev 2014; 33: 217-29. 63.


30. Martinez-Outschoorn UE, Peiris-Pagés M, Pestell RG, Sotgia F, Lisanti MP. Cancer metabolism: a therapeutic perspective. Nat Rev Clin Oncol 2017; 14: 11-31.


31. Harvie M, Wright C, Pegington M, et al. The effect of intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction v. daily energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. Br J Nutr 2013; 110: 1534-47.





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