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Could fasting that was prescribed by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (saw) more than 1400 years ago hold the cure to one of the most of the epidemic diseases of the modern lifestyle?
Diabetes, Should I really care?
Currently, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK is estimated to be 3.5 million. It is predicted that up to 549,000 people in the UK have diabetes that is yet to be diagnosed.This represents 6% of the UK population or 1 in every 16 people having diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed)! The global prevalence of diabetes among adults over 18 years of age has risen from 4.7% in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014. In 2012, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and another 2.2 million deaths were attributable to high blood glucose. So there is no doubt that diabetes is right there amongst the most dangerous killers of humans in the modern World along with Cancer & HIV/AIDS.
So what exactly is Ramadan?
In the current political climate, most people would know what Ramadan means. However for those who are not sure, Ramadan is a month in Islamic Calendar also known as Hijri Calendar in which Muslims fast throughout the month. Muslims refrain from drinking and eating from sunrise until sunset during these fasts. This month usually culminates with a special day known as Eid which marks the end of Ramadan and is considered a day of joy in Islam. Interestingly fasting has not been prescribed for health reasons in Islam, instead it is mentioned as a pillar of Islam through which Muslims can get closer to Allah. Throughout Islamic history, pious Muslims used to not only observe fasting in the month of Ramadan but also observed lots of voluntary fasts throughout the year. In fact some famous Muslim scholars were known to fast for few days every month! It is not known however whether they had found out about the health benefits of fasting as modern science has told us today.
What we know about health benefits of fasting today!
We have known for a while beyond doubt that fasting does have an positive effect on the overall health of a person. The fasting that has mostly been the focus of scientific studies is intermittent fasting. It is not a diet but simply what times you should eat and when you shouldn’t eat. Most ‘fasters’ use this 16/8 method where they would fast for 16 hours and then their eating window would be limited to 8 hours. This is very similar to Islamic fast aka Roza/Sawm, the only difference you have already defined periods of time where you can eat and where you cannot. I have personally been doing intermittent fasting for several years now. Few years ago I realised that I was gaining weight quickly. My analysis was that it was because I wasn’t as active as I was in my mid 20s but I was still eating the same amount of food. Also as you start to get older, you metabolism slows down. So the same amount of food will easily make you obese if you don’t increase the amount of exercise. For me this wasn’t an option, working on the business alongside a full time job, exercising more than 4 days a week was just not possible. So I started with the meal that was the easiest to skip ie Breakfast for me! First few days it was slightly difficult but soon you get used to it. The best thing was I felt I had much more energy throughout the morning. A nice by product was that I didn’t eat that much as I used to during lunch. I was able to not only maintain my weight but in fact shed a few pounds while being more energetic. Please note that if you have any underlying medical condition, please make sure to consult your doctor before starting out such regiment.
Well I am sure by this point you must be thinking that all above is just anecdotal evidence, so here we go with some studies that prove the benefits of fasting. Several studies have shown that during fasting, our blood sugar and most importantly Insulin levels take a dip whereas surprisingly Human Growth Hormone (HGH) increases! Studies have also shown that it is a very simple and effective way to restrict calories and burn fat which is hardly surprising as you won’t be eating for long periods of time. I can personally attest to this fact that after a few days you hardly notice hunger during your fast. Also, you don’t feel that guilty binging on sugar-laden drinks or junk food later on 😉.
Studies on rats surprisingly also showed surprisingly that rats on fasting (near starvation diets) actually lived longer and were much healthier in their old age than rodents that ate normally. More studies are however being done to understand how exactly this happens. There is a theory though that proposes that fasting somehow makes our cells more efficient and hence help in better ageing. Fasting has also been shown to have beneficial effects on Alzheimer and reduction of inflammation in the Brain. Fasting has also been found to improve mood as well as memory. Again something as a personal anecdote, I have noticed that fasting has a positive effect on my mood, however memory and concentration seem to take a hit for me personally if fasting is longer than 12 hours but this is just me and your mileage may vary! Similarly I also have friends who say that even