How quickly time flies…just about three weeks ago Ramadan began and Muslims around the world commenced their first fast and today it is approaching its last ten days. Now of course we all know that fasting is important spiritually as it teaches us to be patient, be self-aware, and to have restraint (“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” al-Qur’an 2:183). But did you know there are many physical and mental benefits of fasting?
Let’s start with physical benefits:
• weight Loss - Normally, the body uses glucose for energy and keeps fat as “reserve” energy. But while fasting the body begins to use fat as its main source of energy. Why does this matter? Essentially you are burning fat which entails to weight loss. However, keep in mind due to this occurring, the food you eat before and after fasting is absorbed much more quickly and powerfully. So if you break your fast with fried fatty foods, you will gain more weight than you will lose. In the same way, if you eat more nutritionally rich foods, then you will be much more energized.
• Giving your body a break - As you fast your metabolism slows down and less of your energy is directed towards breaking down food. 650f your body’s energy is directed towards digesting your food in a day. In a way, you are resting your body by fasting! • Repairing the body – Since less of your energy is directed to breaking down food, the body spends more time repairing the body by producing more white blood cells. White blood cells are the body’s main source of protection against diseases and ailments. This helps tremendously for patients recovering from cancer as during chemotherapy many of the white blood cells are destroyed in the cancer cell eradication process.
• Detox – As you fast the toxins stored in your body are dissolved. No special juice or greens needed.
Alright now that we’ve listed a few great physical benefits let’s move onto some mental benefits: • General mental well-being – After a few days of fasting, the production of endorphins increases tremendously leading to a happier sense of self and increased alertness.
• It decreases feelings of depression – BDNF (Brain-derived neurotic factor) is a protein that interacts with neurons in the parts of the brain that regulate memory, learning, and higher cognitive function and helps to spur synapses (which pass signals from one neuron to the next) and new neurons. Depression occurs when there is a lack of serotonin production as well as a miscommunication between the synapses. Since the brain can focus on functions other than food digestion, it can produce more BDNF.
• Aids in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are neurodegenerative diseases. This means that they occur when the brain is not producing enough neurons. Fasting could help mitigate this issue; since the brain produces more BDNF while fasting (which aids in the production of neurons and synapses) then it will be more unlikely for a person to be deficient in neurons.
• More Sleep – A study in 2003 by Michaelson et. al. found that after 8 days of fasting those who fasted were much more likely to get better sleep than those who did not fast. Time and time again Islam proves itself as an enduring religion. Whether it is through salat or fasting, Islam continues to show us the many faceted benefits of our way of life.