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Ramadan and your health

The scene

Rzk cannot wait for the Islamic Holy month to start. For him, there’s something about it worth looking forward to. He’s not a medical person but he’s been able to recognize a general feeling of wellness during the season. He as well ‘’feels lighter’’ because his trade mark pot belly recedes at this period. Scene 2 Madam TW was fortunate to have survived a fainting attack during last year’s Holy month; she collapsed while waiting to board a bus around 2pm on a particular day, having woken late to prepare Sahur (the morning meal) hence skipping it! Random tests revealed she had a low blood sugar! She noticed that the fainting was preceded by sweating, shakiness and severe headache… What it is Fasting refers to refraining from either food, drink, or both at one’s own will or for religious reasons (as in Ramadan) for a definite span of time. Variants of Fasting • Partial day fasting. Intermittently skipping one or two meals per day, resulting in no calorie intake for periods of 18 hrs (eg, no breakfast) to 24 hrs (no breakfast and lunch) on alternating days. Another version is no food during daylight, as practiced during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. • Single day fasting. No food or calories from the evening of day #1 to the morning of day #3 – a span of 36 hours. • • Multiple day fasting. No food or calories for 48 hours or longer.

The benefits

  1. Boosting of Brain function : Fasting has been shown to improve brain performance because it boosts a protein that activate brain stem cells to convert into nerve cells (neurons) and stimulate other chemicals that promote nerve health.

  2. It has a positive effect on insulin resistance enabling one to tolerate carbohydrates better than normal. It has been shown to have crucial benefits for insulin sensitivity and can lead to a reduced blood sugar.

  3. It enables weight loss: Fasting allows the body to burn fat for energy when there is no sugar or food, hence weight reduction.

  4. It reduces Belly Fat (truncal obesity) : Since the digestive system is resting, this allows to burn calories and fat better. Truncal obesity has been demonstrated to be a risk factor for heart disease.

  5. It boosts cardiovascular health: Fasting is known to improve risk factors for heart disease such as lipid levels and blood pressure.

  6. It boosts immunity; Fasting is known to improve the immune system because it reduces free radical damage and suppress cancer cell formation.

  7. It improves digestion: Since the stomach and intestines are less active, they cleanse and regulate themselves to allow a more efficient process.

  8. Better Kidney Function: During fasting, the kidneys increase the process of elimination of non-useful material (salt and water) which in turn decreases blood pressure.

  9. It aids proper blood distribution: During fasting, less blood goes from the heart to the digestive tract which means more blood to other parts- no bad cholesterol levels which in turn decreases the chance of heart diseases.

  10. It detoxifies; When no food is consumed by the body, the body turns to the fat deposits for energy, which releases chemicals from the fatty reserves and results in the eradication of these chemicals through the organs. It has been well favored by some forms of therapy for cleansing and correcting the imbalances in the body.

  11. It speeds up healing; Fasting also promotes the healing process in the body. When food is no longer present in the stomach, the body focuses on other vital functions like metabolic activity and the immune system, rather than digestion which is not necessary until the next meal.

    1. It promotes healthier skin; Diet is important to the skin’s appearance, but fasting can also improve your skin’s integrity. High blood sugar changes the structure of collagen, weakening its strength and resilience. Since fasting substantially lowers blood sugar, you can think of it as a normal part of your skin care routine to ensure graceful aging.

The drawbacks

• Peptic Ulcer disease (PUD): Fasting is known to increase stomach acidity, hence may predispose to PUD. For a known PUD patient it could be aggravated to perforation which could lead to bleeding ;(could be life threatening). Bleeding PUD usually manifests as vomiting of bright red blood or passage of dark blood via anus. What to do; Discontinue fasting ASAP and visit the nearest hospital

• Hypoglycemia (Low blood Sugar); This comes from staying without food (in this instance). Symptoms include;Headache, Confusion, Being Irritable, Dizziness, Sweating, Reduced attention span, Tremors (shakiness), Palpitations, In extreme cases, Seizures

• Hypoglycemic symptoms can also occur when one is sleeping. Examples of symptoms during sleep can include damp bed sheets or clothes from perspiration. Having nightmares or the act of crying out can be a sign of hypoglycemia. Once the individual is awake they may feel tired, irritable, or confused and these may be signs of hypoglycemia as well. What to do: Gulp a bottle of sugary drink immediately and discontinue fasting.

• It could interfere with body functions especially in the malnourished.

• It could altar body’s ability to absorb some medications or increase the potential of adverse effects. • It make cause some conditions like gall stones and gout to flare up. • It can as well negatively affect the immune system.

Advice

As much as fasting has merits, the demerits should not be overlooked, and it is always good to seek medical advice before the spiritual exercise. For those being managed for chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes, it is pertinent you visit your doctor so that the dosing regimen can be modified to once or twice daily. Ramadan Mubarak!

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