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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Published on 7 Ramadhan, 1424.

The Muslim Fast and our Body
Part Two
Part One

By Dr. Suriya Osman
Medical Doctor, Sufi Healing teacher and Homeopath

Iraqi Date Palm

I have read about a lot of research done on the Ramadan fast on blood lipid levels and, it has been shown that fasting reduced serum cholesterol while raising the good cholesterol. This result was obtained in many of the studies conducted and, one that I am quoting is titled:

Effect of Ramadan Fasting on Lipid Peroxidation, Serum Lipoproteins and Fasting Blood Sugar done in the Isfahan Universirty of Medical Sciences on 50 healthy subjects.

One of the things frequently pointed out to be negative is the dehydration that is caused by not taking any fluids from sun up to sundown, but in actual fact this also has been proven to be of possible benefit:

Quoting from a magazine article: at this URL
Abstinence from water during this period is not bad at all and in fact, it causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The body has its own water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve their longevity.

For the effects of fasting on the blood sugar, again a lot of research has been done on this, and the results may differ with different research but a consensus may be reached that it is generally beneficial. In my clinic though I do not see it to be so, most probably because we find that during Ramadan, many people will take to drinking sweetened water and syrups! When I was studying in another Muslim country which I will not mention, I was shocked to find out that my landlord, a family of 4 adults, actually consumed one kilogram of sugar in 2 days during Ramadan because of extra sweetmeats they prepared! There were many other things I found rather weird and among them, day became night, night became day, people stayed up to eat and talk the whole night and in the day time they mostly slept! I think in some places schools were closed and work was cut to a minimum. I am of the opinion that all these practices actually negate the beneficial effects of fasting and am happy to say it is not the custom here in Malaysia where people would spend the earlier part of the night in group prayers and then sleep, waking early for the pre dawn meal, more prayers and Quran reading while in the day time it is work as usual.



Another common problem is gastritis! I have mentioned about taking hot chili and spices and said that it is not a very wise choice of food for breaking the fast! Neither are caffeine drinks, especially if one is sensitive to caffeine. I find that a cup of coffee or tea an hour or so after breaking the fast is not too harmful for the average person but for the sensitive person it is enough to cause a digestive upset as well as insomnia or, in the case of tea, the tannin content in the tea may cause constipation to a bowel that is already sluggish from the reduced peristalsis caused by the fast! A very good drink for breaking the fast would be a tea made from fresh ginger! What I do is take fresh young ginger and crush it, and add hot water and honey and a little limejuice, or lemon juice. It helps digestion and is a very soothing drink to take after a fast. I know fresh young ginger may not be too easy to find in the West though and ginger powder may have to do but won' t taste as good! This drink is one my grandmother used to make and I remember drinking it every fasting month when I was a child. I have revived the tradition in my own home, and have also found out that ginger heals many minor digestive complaints! 

Other simple solutions to hyperacidity may be Magnesium Trisilicate, which can be bought at the pharmacy. It has the added advantage of being mildly laxative which helps in the fasting month!  Read labels and do not buy anything that contains aluminium. We get enough from aluminium foils and aluminium cans and do not need an extra dose of it! Aluminium has been implicated in Alzheimer's disease and one should avoid any antacid that contains aluminium and mind you, many actually do.

There is an effect of experiencing a high from eating even from 2 days of fasting the Muslim way. I think this would be difficult to explain to people who have not experienced this high! When we are eating every day and eating very regularly, I think we sometimes get to the point that the eating does not seem to be contributing to our energy. I have often felt tired and even sluggish especially when there had been too many dinner invitations, and the food was so delicious that one tended to overindulge. I have found my own cure for this and that is to fast, and to break my fast with light foods for at least 2 days! What we will experience is that the first day of the fast is very difficult, I would feel very tired and my whole body would ache, my head would ache and I would not be in a very good mood! On the second day, I would feel less tired, and my body would start to feel better, I would be mild mannered and sweet, even though I would feel tired! And then when I have a normal day on the third day starting with breakfast in the morning, what would happen is that I would feel great! I would have a lot of energy, I would be vivacious and full of life. My digestion would have improved, food would taste great but a little bit would be enough and after a meal there would be a surge of energy and a sense of well being that would have been absent before the fast.

For a month long fast, it is the same but, on an extended scale! There are several differences in routine that happens when we fast and that is that we have to sleep less, because of the pre dawn meal and prayers. It would help to sleep early but usually what happens is that after breaking the fast in the evening, there is so much energy that one does not feel like sleeping early and would use the time for reading and prayers or talking or doing a hundred and one things that one did not feel like doing in the day time while fasting! This does not always happen though, if one has taken too much food when breaking the fast, what happens is an extreme lethargy and sleepiness and you may find yourself sleeping right after breaking the fast so if you do not want to go to sleep after breaking the fast, make sure you do not fill your stomach to the brim! It is also not a commendable thing to do! 

The Prophet's instructions on eating are very simple, "Eat when hungry and do not eat until you feel full. There should be one third of your stomach with food, one third with liquid and, one-third with air!" The wonderful thing though that you will find is, that after some time, you will not need so much sleep and can make do with less sleep. This seems to be a result of eating less!

Supplements and Drugs while Fasting


As I have said previously, when fasting the stomach and intestines become somewhat more sensitive than they are when we are eating all the time. What this means is that foods we react to will have a greater amplitude of the same reaction we have while not fasting. A far as supplements are concerned, the more concentrated ones may not agree very much with the digestion while fasting so for most people, it would be best to cut down supplements to the minimum.

As for those on medications, here are the adjustments that may be needed:
Diabetics on hypoglycaemics or insulin: When fasting the blood glucose level will go down so if you take a dose during the pre dawn meal, you may go into hypoglycaemia in the day time. Symptoms would include vertigo, cold sweating and feeling faint. I usually advise my patients to take their daily dose during the evening meal. Those who take 2 dose a day will need adjustment of the predawn dose. A reduced dose may also be needed. Monitoring blood glucose levels while fasting would help in the adjustments, involve your doctor in the adjustments. As for antihypertensives, it is probably ok to stick to the medication as before, those taking medication 3 times a day may need to change to longer acting versions of the drugs they are taking. Again talking to your doctor is going to help make the adjustments.

Antibiotics: Anybody who needs antibiotics while fasting should request for the antibiotics with a daily or twice daily dose. It would be a bit problematic to try to take 3 daily doses at night and not possible to adjust the dosing. Some antibiotics can cause crystals in the urine and cause pain when urinating because of the no intake of water in the daytime. As such, please inform your doctor you are fasting and ask the doctor not to give such antibiotics. Those who are prone to urine infections may take urine alkalinizers, which are sold over the counter in pharmacies. Cornsilk and barley drinks would also be helpful to take.

I have mentioned about constipation: Vegetables and other complex carbohydrate foods are essential. Mild constipation can be dealt with by taking fibre preparations like psyllium husks, and there are some fruits like prunes and tamarind juice that can also help. Other than this there are some mild preparations like Forlax that are very
safe to take when absolutely necessary. The other alternative is to go for enemas. Constipation should not be allowed to continue, as it will reduce the detox effect of the fast. The liver cannot unload its accumulated waste products if the person is constipated. Avoid tea because it contains tannin, which is astringent and tends to cause constipation if you are constipated. Those taking NSAID, ie painkillers may have much more gastric irritation on these and, if they have sensitive stomachs should change to less irritating drugs which your doctor will tell you about. It may cost more than the usual NSAID s that you are taking.
Eg, you may change from diclofenac sodium a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to a cox 2 inhibitor like meloxicam. 

You may however want to try alternative treatment and now may be a good time to make the switch! The fasting time is also the best time to deal with your drug and food addictions! Since smokers and caffeine drinkers have to abstain while fasting, they will find that it gets much easier to keep delaying the coffee or cigarettes until they don' t drink it or smoke it and it is time to fast again! Those who are really heavy smokers may need a little bit more help from the doctor by going on a nicotine patch or some other aids to stopping smoking. Many have asked me about taking injections. In general, injections according to the clerics I have consulted are allowed while fasting, and there should not be a problem with this. Having said this, painkillers are still excreted to the stomach and taking such an injection on an empty stomach may cause a gastric irritation.

Physical Activities and Sports


Other issues I have seen raised about fasting is physical activities and sports. Naturally these activities will cause the person to sweat and become dehydrated so what happens when you sweat and cannot drink any fluids? I have done exercise and aerobic dancing while fasting and am none the worse for it. What I do is to have these activities in the late afternoon, about an hour or so before the time for breaking the fast. In this way there is not much of a delay in replenishing the water in the body. There is a possibility of feeling a bit dizzy while exercising, this is not harmful and is due to the lower blood pressure of the faster.



As for bathing, many fasters avoid bathing after 12 noon when fasting because they say it is makruh, ie not recommended and will reduce the rewards of the fasting since it refreshes the tired body and therefore makes the suffering less!  But practically speaking, bathing every day and scrubbing with a sponge will very much help the body to detox since all the fasting is going to move toxins into the organs of elimination which are the large intestine including the liver, the kidneys, the lungs and the skin via the sweat glands and the skin cells!  By removing the dead skin cells, which contain the toxin, we allow the skin to send more of the stuff it wants to remove via the skin! So one of the benefits of the fast will be a lovely clear complexion! Not to worry if in the beginning the skin throws out pimples and other eruptions, this does sometimes happen before the skin clears! But the skin will not clear unless you do not eat that foods that aggravate eruptions, like nuts and chocolates!

Another tip I would like to share is to carry a drinking bottle, make sure it is one that is not easy to spill, when you go for the tarawih prayers. This way you can drink in between the prayers and rehydrate yourself better. You will notice your throat get very dry while saying the tarawih, if you have neglected to bring your drinking water along!

Inward Looking Time


There is a little bit I would like to address about the emotional and mental effects of fasting. There are my own observations and bits and pieces I have heard or read somewhere and cannot make references to ..this is the reason I cannot write scholarly papers, a lot of what I say is mere heresay and anecdotal! A talk I attended just before the fast made a point about the fast. Now this advise is by some holy person and as usual I cannot remember who but, something clicked when I heard the advise. The advise is, stop what you do as a routine in your life, forget about that extra ironing that you do, vacuum the house less, spend less time on the computer, change your routine in whatever way you can and, do beneficial things you never had the time for! Read that motivational book that you have bought a few months ago and never had the time for, read the Quran and make sure you ponder over the meanings. MAKE ROOM in your life for new things by removing from it the stuff that is keeping away the new things that are needed in your life. Your mind is clear when you fast, because the energy spent on digesting food, is now not being expended and is available to your brain. The emotional support you get from the sense of togetherness, the breaking of the fast with the family, the increased consciousness about keeping away the negative, makes this an ideal time to reflect, to think and to grow in our realisations besides the extra prayers that we do. I always need my inward looking time and it is quite easy to be caught in group activities and forget to look inwards at this time, but it would be a waste not to use this time for that inner spring cleaning!

I have had some questions asked to me and will address them now before ending this series on the Muslim fast and our body.


Some Questions and Answers


One person asked me what to do if one is underweight and will lose a lot of needed weight when fasting!  Some people have very high body metabolism and tend to lose weight even when eating well. The ones I know who are like this are very healthy in other ways except that they look like they have not eaten for weeks!  I would suggest to take extra high calorie meal replacements after the usual meals as a drink in between the 2 main meals and to take another supper snack an hour before sleeping. Take more fat, nuts are a good source of fat and snack on dried fruits and nuts at night. Please make sure you know your cholesterol levels before undertaking to eat more fat. There are some pretty thin individuals who may have raised cholesterol levels and raised ldl cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and low hdl (good cholesterol).

Another person asked me what I think of the traditional way some people take extra large meals with lots of goodies during the fasting month, much more than they usually eat and this person said he actually gained weight in the fasting month! I think this is a very unhealthy way to fast and would be harmful in the long run as well as it negates many of the benefits, both physical, emotional and spiritual.

Ramadan Mubarak! May you have the best fast possible and emerge from the fasting month renewed and victorious over your nafs, healthier in mind body and soul!

Suriya Osman
Medical Doctor, Sufi Healing teacher and Homeopath

email me at

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Last Updated Monday, 08 February 2010