Anjuman-e-Asghari Medical News
Wednesday July 31, 2013
Vol. 2 Issue 18
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ABC of Nutrition 3: Effects of Fasting on the Human Body


It is Ramadhan and most of the Muslims fast during the day time. I was curious to find out what is the effect of this alternate day or intermittent fasting (as Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset) on the human body. And since we are covering nutrition I thought this would be an appropriate time learn about the physical effects of fasting on our body.


Survival is innate for human being and it is linked to primary drives, hunger and thirst. Depriving oneself of these necessities, even for a short period, is thought to exemplify the highest form of discipline.

Fasting and Religion


Fasting is not unique to Islam, as almost all the religions recommend fasting in one form or another.  Catholics observe partial fasting where one meal a day is eaten, in some cases only water allowed. Fasting once strictly regulated was changed to voluntary practice by Pope Paul in 1966 and the two days are observed in US are Ash Wednesday (first day of Lent: which a period of 6 weeks before Easter) and Good Friday (Crucifixion of Christ). Different denominations of Catholicism have their own on parochial variations of fasting.


Fasting remains optional in most Protestant groups and is less popular than among other Christian denominations. They are left to fast individually as a spiritual exercise but the time and manner of fasting is left to the individual's discretion.


Hindus commonly fast on certain days of the month, Ekadashi (11th day of the lunar month) and full moon. There are numerous days of fasting during the year and there is a broad spectrum of variations, some limiting to one meal a day to taking milk only to total abstinence of all intakes for 48 hrs.


Jews fast for 6 days a year abstaining from food and liquids. On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Jews fast for 25 hours with prayers.


Fasting is not promoted in Sikhism. Sikh Gurus discourage this practice as it brings no spiritual benefit.


Whatever the spiritual benefits, how does self deprivation food and water for 12 to 18 hrs affect our body physiologically? Of course there are the short term effects but are there any long term advantages? 

The Physiology


Ultimate source of energy for our body is glucose. We have an almost constant supply of glucose from the food we eat, anything in excess is stored for immediate use as Glycogen in the liver (8% =100-120 grams only after a meal) and muscle (has only 1-2% of its weight as glycogen) anything more is stored as Fat. Liver glycogen is the only source of glucose for the energy need of the organs, and the brain depends entirely on glucose. Glycogen is broken down into glucose and it is converted to energy. Stored glycogen can provide energy for only 8-12 hrs. The amount of glycogen stored in body depends on physical training, basal metabolic rate (are you a gas guzzler or Prius, the bigger you are the higher your metabolic rate and more glucose you needed to keep you going), and eating habits. The more often you eat in a day, the smaller your energy stores in form of Glycogen.


Of course we must not forget water. You need at least 3 liters (3/4 gallons = 6 pints= 13 cups of water per day). And out of 5 liters (10 pints) of blood in our body 55% is water; and 70% of body is made up of water. That is a 70 kg person is 50 kg water!
Effects of Fasting

Please note: The following facts are from research articles.

Lack of Food

Glucose starts to fall as we deprive ourselves of food, but our body counter balances this short supply by raiding its glycogen store in the liver and glucose levels are maintained. As the day progresses the glycogen stores dwindle and glucose is not replenished as fast, and glucose level fall further. The organ which is most dependent upon glucose, that is the brain, starts to show the effect of low glucose after 8 hours, which include headache, nausea, dizziness, irritability, tiredness, sleepiness decrease alertness.

Lack of Fluids

Lack of fluid intake causes body to conserve water, by concentrating urine (it gets darker), decreases production of saliva and other intestinal juices, decreases sweating, and extracts more water from digested food. So what happens?


Blood pressure may fall and you feel dizzy, muscles ache, constipation, dry mouth, and if you are working in a hot climate the body has difficulty keeping cool!  But no detrimental effects on health have as yet been directly attributed to negative water balance at the levels that may be produced during Ramadan.


Mind you, these symptoms are more noticeable in the early days of fasting. Then the body does adapt, so that the effects are minimized. Of course if you sleep when you are fasting, you will not feel all these side effects as you are "parked with motor running" so the energy consumption is low!
The Beneficial Effects of Fasting
Caloric restriction has definite benefits and it has been shown that it reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, insulin resistance, immune disorders, and more generally, the slowing of the aging process, and the potential to increase maximum life span. But, alas, we tend to binge at the time of fasting and there after! Unfortunately with unhealthy food, such as fried and starchy foods, all the calories deprived during the fast will be replenished. So then it becomes a wash. Studies in Middle East have shown that there is minimal if any difference in average, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure during Ramadhan or the rest of the year.
So what should we do during fasting? Please, by all means fast to full fill your spiritual needs. But for those who have chronic disease or regular medication, should discuss the issue with their doctor. If they are advised not to fast or must take their medications then follow the advice, Allah is all forgiving. Those who fast, sleep adequately (at least 8 hours), minimize your physical activity, stay indoors in a cool environment, and wear light loose clothes. At iftaar, taking plenty of fluids, fresh juice, and eat a balanced meal. Avoid fried, fatty, starchy food. After the breaking the fast take small amount of liquids (preferably fresh juice or fruits) and it is a good strategy to eat just before you close your fast as it boosts your glycogen storage.



An article in Neurology Journal (September 18, 2012) reports that moderate (20-50 grams per week) chocolate consumption may lower you're risk of stroke! So chocolate for faateha?

Additional Links


Those who are interested to read more here are some links:


The impact of religious fasting on human health


Adverse Effects of Islamic Fasing


Effects of Ramadan fasting on physical performance and metabolic, hormonal, and inflammatory parameters in middle-distance runners.


Effects on health of fluid restriction during fasting in Ramadan 

Next Issue: Balanced Diet and How to Read Nutrition Labels on Food Packages


Please send your suggestions about topics in nutrition that you would like to learn more about.

Medical Committee
Anjuman-e-Asghari 2012


These names are for your information only please do not contact them in medical Emergency Call 911 or your doctor or your Clinic.


If you have a medical problem to discuss please email female or male doctor and you will be contacted.


Dr. Ansar Ahmed

Home: 763-478-6406

Cell: 612-207-3043


Fatima Jaffer

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Dhamina Tejani-Karim


Shazia Mulla


Shabnam Sabur: BS, RN: Registered Nurse

Home: 763-780-5411

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Mohamed Remtulla

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Shabbir Yusufali