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Welcoming Ramadan while Keeping a Check on your Health

As the month of Sha’ban is about to end and the holy month of Ramadan is beaming at the other end, call for fasting is about to ring for the Muslims of the world. Fasting might be associated with refraining from eating and drinking, but the other side of the coin shows that fasting also brings various metabolic & endocrine changes in the human body.

Kauser Sayedda researched Shri Ram Murti Smarak Institute of Medical Sciences to find “Effects of Ramadan Fasting in Healthy Students” and found that fasting has anthropometric, physiological, metabolic and endocrine effects on the human body. So it indicates that besides other indications, Ramadan also fetches severe repercussions regarding our health which needs thoughtful consideration to live with the best of health throughout the month.

Depending upon the time of the year Ramadan falls in and also the latitude, the duration of the fast varies between 11 and 18 hours in the north and the tropical countries. Constant restriction on the eating & drinking schedule may affect body biochemical and physiological functioning.

Various studies have concluded that Ramadan fasting reduces the weight, waist circumference and BMI (Body and mass index) and thus, has beneficial effects on the body, especially for obese people. It also reduces the anxiety level in people who fast. A detoxification process also seems to occur, as any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body. After a few days of the fast, higher levels of certain hormones appear in the blood (endorphins) which result in a better level of alertness and an overall feeling of general mental well-being.

However, some other studies have shed light on various health constraints which occur due to fasting, especially in people with pre-existing health issues. Moreover, it is observed that people keeping fasts may suffer from sleeping disorder. For taking predawn meals to keep fast, people wake up at 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning. So the total duration of the night sleep reduces and causes daytime sleepiness.

It is observed in a study  “The effects of Ramadan fasting on sleep patterns and daytime sleepiness” that during Ramadan,there is a change in sleep latency and a decrease in rapid eye movement sleep . Sleep is disturbed by the time of predawn meal leading  in people who are fasting. This disturbs the circadian rhythm or biological clock of the body, changing body’s sleep architecture.

People who fast over Ramadan experience  mild or a moderate headache in response to  factors such as stress ,caffeine withdrawal, and smoking cessation. Also, fasting and consequent low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) may be inimical for people suffering from migraine since it may  trigger a headache. Study shows that 50 percent of patients diagnosed with migraine  have a headache after 16 hours without food. To address this problem, researchers have concluded  that eating a meal with low sugar content before the fast may prevent the onset of a headache during the day. 

Dehydration is another common trigger- adequate intake of fluid before the onset of the fast can often help to prevent headache.

Fasting can be hazardous to patients with certain gastrointestinal diseases and can complicate the condition. In a Research by Ozkan in 2009 “Does Ramadan fasting increase acute upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage?” concluded that more patients were diagnosed with acute upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage during Ramadan compared to a non-Ramadan month and suggested that fasting during Ramadan reactivates and aggravates the severity and complications of pre-existing GI diseases like peptic ulcer and gastritis.

 To cater the plausible rise of health issues during the month of Ramadan, an organization Communities in Action (CIA) working in Britain issued “Ramadan health guide” so that the public can be sensitized about significance and issues that may occur in Ramadan. This guide says that although fasting usually reduces the amount of acid produced in the stomach to digest food, thought of food or the smell of it makes the brain to order the stomach to produce more acid. Hence, if there is a net increase in acid, heartburn could be a problem during the fast.

Moreover, the guide also levied stress on the occurrence of dehydration during fasting and how to handle this issue. The body continues to lose water and salts through breathing and sweating; the quantity of water loss will vary depending on the weather, how much you had to drink before your fast, the degree of physical exertion and the ability of the kidneys to retain water and salts. Acute dehydration can cause a serious problem if not immediately rehydrated.

The guide suggested that balanced food and fluid intake is vital in the month of Ramadan. The kidney is very efficient at maintaining the body’s water and salts, such as sodium and potassium; however, these can be lost through sweating. To prevent muscle breakdown, meals must contain adequate levels of ‘energy food’, such as carbohydrates and some fat. Hence, a balanced diet with adequate quantities of nutrients, salts, and water is vital in the month of the Ramadan if you want your Ramadan to be really a ‘blessed’ one.

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