“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’
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).
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.
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