Figure 1: Muslims break their fast outside a mosque during Ramadan (Zia, 2012).
You've heard about the Ramadan diet and have been wondering if it would make you lose that extra weight? Or maybe you heard about its health benefits and noticed that non-Muslims are giving it a try too. Should you try Ramadan intermittent fasting?
Ramadan fasting falls under a category of intermittent fasting. It is indeed the most common form of intermittent fasting. People who observe Ramadan stop eating and drinking from dawn until sunset for religious motivations. Of the world population, 22% fast during Ramadan (Ahmed, 2017). Muslims eat a pre-fast meal before dawn and break their fast with a meal at sunset. Healthy adults are the only ones required to fast this month, so people with a chronical illness and women being pregnant are exempted from Ramadan.
Over the past two decades, scientists from around the world have been studying the effects of Ramadan fasting on your health (Trepanowski & Bloomer, 2010). Some intrigued scientists analyzed data stretching on decades to see whether Ramadan fasting reduces your body fat (Bardsley, 2020). Research examines whether this type of fasting is a drug-free way of improving your health and living a longer life. Scientists study different aspects of the health of volunteers before, during and after Ramadan fasting.
A study suggests that Ramadan fasting readjusts your cholesterol levels towards a healthy range, improving heart health in healthy subjects (Mirmiran, Bahadoran, Gaeini, Moslehi, & Azizi, 2019). In another study, scientists took the blood pressure and collected blood samples of 50 healthy volunteers before, during and after Ramadan to see if fasting reduces inflammation of the body (Faris et al., 2012). These scientists found that, when fasting, your body lowers the number of cells involved in the defense of your body. This decreases inflammation significantly during Ramadan, which allows your body to take a break and fight major diseases when necessary (Faris et al., 2012). Experts have also found that Ramadan fasting can help you prevent or help you treat cancers, by producing more specific proteins that are missing in several types of cancer (Mindikoglu et al., 2020). You can also prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease and a couple of neuropsychiatric diseases because fasting adjusts specific gene levels in your brain (Mindikoglu et al., 2020). Lastly, since you do not consume glucose during the day, your body fat is used to give your body the energy it needs, which means that Ramadan helps you lose extra weight (Faris et al., 2012). Your physical condition will be improved!
There is still some contradiction between different studies. Results vary from one study to another based on what and how much you eat at night during Ramadan. The duration of the fast also varies from one country to another. Scientists are not certain how many hours of fasting are beneficial for your body, and what the limit would be (Fahrial, Suryani, Abdullah, & Makmun, 2016). Ramadan could be harmful if you have a severe sickness and need to take medications during the day. However, remember that people who are sick are exempted from Ramadan fasting in the Muslim tradition. In addition, you might regain the lost weight after 4-5 weeks (Fahrial et al., 2016). It is also possible that your body gets used to eating less often and you are able to keep your new weight.
It seems likely that Ramadan intermittent fasting has a positive impact on your overall health. Looking at these studies, if you are a strong healthy person, Ramadan fasting should be beneficial to you. I think you should give it a try!
Ahmed, S. (2017) Ramadan for Non-Muslims: An Etiquette Guide. CNN:Travel. Retrieved from http://wakenyacanada.com/ramadan-non-muslims-etiquette-guide/
Ayse L. Mindikoglu, Mustafa M. Abdulsada, Antrix Jain, Jong Min Choi, Prasun K. Jalal, Sridevi Devaraj, Melissa P. Mezzari, Joseph F. Petrosino, Antone R. Opekun, Sung Yun Jung (2020). Intermittent fasting from dawn to sunset for 30 consecutive days is associated with anticancer proteomic signature and upregulates key regulatory proteins of glucose and lipid metabolism, circadian clock, DNA repair, cytoskeleton remodeling, immune system and cognitive function in healthy subjects, Journal of Proteomics, 217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jprot.2020.103645
Bardsley, D. (2020, April 4). Ramadan: new research sheds light on fasting and weight loss. The National. Retrieved from https://www.thenational.ae/uae/health/ramadan-new-research-sheds-light-on-fasting-and-weight-loss-1.1001310
Fahrial Syam, A., Suryani Sobur, C., Abdullah, M., & Makmun, D. (2016). Ramadan Fasting Decreases Body Fat but Not Protein Mass. International journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.5812/ijem.29687
“Mo'ez Al-Islam” E. Faris, Safia Kacimi, Ref'at A. Al-Kurd, Mohammad A. Fararjeh, Yasser K. Bustanji, Mohammad K. Mohammad, Mohammad L. Salem (2012). Intermittent fasting during Ramadan attenuates proinflammatory cytokines and immune cells in healthy subjects, Nutrition Research, 32( 12), 947-955. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2012.06.021
Parvin Mirmiran, Zahra Bahadoran, Zahra Gaeini, Nazanin Moslehi, Fereidoun Azizi (2019). Effects of Ramadan intermittent fasting on lipid and lipoprotein parameters: An updated meta-analysis, Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 29(9), 906-915. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.numecd.2019.05.056
Trepanowski, J.F., Bloomer, R.J. (2010). The impact of religious fasting on human health. Nutr J 9, 57. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-9-57
Zia, N. 2012. Ramadan : Iftar time at Masjid Nabawi [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://navedz.com/ramadan-iftar-time-at-masjid-nabawi/