Ramadan, the fasting period celebrated by millions of people around the world, is expected to start next week.
As Muslims prepare for one of the most important events in the Islamic calendar, we take a look at the health implications of Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
It is characterized by a fast of 29 to 30 days, which commemorates the Islamic prophet Muhammad being visited by the angel Gabriel/Gabriel and revealing the foundations of the Quran.
Ramadan, a fasting period celebrated by Muslims around the world, may carry a number of health benefits as well as some potential health risks
During Ramadan, most Muslims eat only twice a day, at a pre-dawn meal called suhoor and again at a post-sunset meal called iftar
It is celebrated all over the world with adult Muslims, with few exceptions, obligated not to consume any food or drink from sunrise to sunset.
Instead, they eat and drink before sunrise in a meal called suhoor and again in a meal after sunset called iftar.
Smoking is also prohibited during the day during Ramadan.
The spiritual idea behind fasting is that it allows Muslims to empathize with those less fortunate, study the Quran and improve their relationship with Allah.
Another aspect of Ramadan is that spiritual rewards are multiplied during this month.
This means that activities such as swearing, lying, fighting and arguing, and sex are also discouraged during Ramadan, while charity towards others is encouraged.
This year, Ramadan in the UK is expected to fall between March 22 and April 21.
Are some Muslims exempt from fasting?
Yes, in general those who could experience negative health consequences from fasting are exempt.
These groups include the elderly, the frail, the sick or under treatment, pregnant and menstruating women, and women who are breastfeeding.
Children who have not yet reached puberty, as well as all Muslims traveling far from home, are also generally exempt from fasting.
People who miss the fast due to a temporary reason, such as menstruation or short illness, are encouraged to make up the fast at another time of the year.
Pregnant women are among the groups exempt from fasting during Ramadan
For those unable to make up the fast, a charitable donation is instead encouraged to help feed the poor.
During the Covid pandemic, some Muslim NHS staff were exempted from not drinking during Ramadan due to the risk to themselves and patients caused by possible dehydration while wearing extensive personal protective equipment.
What are some health benefits of fasting?
Fasting has the distinct benefit of theoretically reducing the number of calories consumed, which could help you lose weight.
However, whether a person loses weight or not depends on what they eat during pre-dawn and post-sunset meals.
If a person chooses heavy decadent caloric feasts to break his fast every day, he will not lose weight despite not eating or drinking during the day.
This is why Muslims are advised to eat a normal, well-balanced meal, with a variety of important food groups for suhoor and iftar.
For some obese or overweight people, changing their normal diet can lead to weight loss during Ramadan.
However, unless they change their eating habits for the rest of the year, the weight will return.
Intermittent fasting, which bears a superficial resemblance to fasting during Ramadan in that proponents skip meals for hours each day, has been linked to anti-aging benefits by some studies, although this is disputed.
Some small studies have shown that Ramadan fasting lowers cholesterol and boosts the immune system, but others found no discernible effect.
Reducing the levels of smoking associated with fasting during Ramadan could be beneficial as it could encourage people to quit completely.
Less smoking can encourage people to give up smoking full-time
Are there any health risks associated with fasting during Ramadan?
Muslims who are at risk of possible health complications from fasting, such as the injured and pregnant women, are exempt. There aren’t many broad health risks from the practice.
While oral medications can be considered breaking the fast, people who are seriously ill are exempt from fasting.
In addition, many medication regimens can be changed so that pills are taken as part of suhoor and iftar.
However, anyone who is concerned should consult their GP or doctor before deciding not to take their medication.
Some medical professionals advise their patients to delay fasting until winter when daylight hours, and thus the fasting period, are shorter to reduce the impact on their health if they do want to fast.
One of the health issues you should obviously be aware of is diabetes and the impact fasting can have on blood sugar levels.
Muslims with diabetes are encouraged to talk to their diabetes management team before Ramadan to discuss whether fasting is advisable.
Oral medication is generally regarded as breaking the fast during Ramadan, which may require some people to change their medication times
Most Imams generally support Muslims with health problems who are exempt from fasting, as the Quran itself states that people should not behave in ways that are harmful to their bodies.
More generally, fasting can cause a few minor health problems.
Mild dehydration can occur from not drinking, which can cause headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
The same is true for people who normally consume caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee during the day, although this usually decreases during Ramadan as their bodies get used to withdrawal.
Finally, the changes in eating habits and lack of fluids during the day can cause constipation in some people.
Muslims are advised to eat plenty of high-fiber foods such as whole grains, high-fiber cereals, bran, fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, dried fruits and nuts in addition to plenty of fluids in their pre-dawn and post-sunset meals.
In addition, light physical activity such as a walk after iftar is recommended to reduce the risk of constipation.