Dr Nampoory
Fasting brings health benefits

Dr Narayanan Nampoory
Consultant Nephrologist, Hamed Al Essa Organ Transplant Center, Ibn Sina Hospital.

FASTING in the month of Ramadan is a religious ritual, which is observed by the faithful for spiritual reasons. However, incidentally it also brings a lot of health benefits to them.
Ramadan fasting is very different from the extreme fasts that some people take up as part of dieting, say crash diets or weight-shedding exercises, which are inimical to health. One should stay away from such rigorous fasting which is not appropriate physiologically. Ramadan fasting is mild and good for health.
Having Suhoor, the predawn meal prior to the start of fasting is highly recommended in Islam. It would be a good idea to have a high-fiber diet, including complex carbohydrates and proteins at this time as they take a longer time to digest, and keep you supplied with nourishments over a prolonged time. Slow digesting foods like grains, seeds, barley, lentils, whole wheat pasta, unpolished rice and so on are good for Suhoor.

For Iftar, the breaking of fast, foods that digest quickly like sugar, pasta, white flour and so on are recommended as they replenish your system instantly.
It is advisable for habitual coffee and tea drinkers to cut down on the intake of these beverages starting from a couple of weeks before Ramadan. A sudden change in these habits can cause headaches. Similar is the case with smokers.

At sundown, drink a lot of water. Fruit juice or Laban will also help. Fasting in summer can cause dehydration if you don’t take adequate water during the non-fasting hours.
It was in 1994, that for the first time an international conference on ‘Health and Fasting in Ramdan’ was held. It took place in Casablanca. More than 50 research papers were presented at the conference, highlighting the health benefits of fasting. Many such conferences have taken place since then.
Studies have shown that fasting not only has health benefits, but also psychological benefits. The change in the body’s metabolism and lifestyle creates tranquility. Statistics indicate that crime rates drop significantly during this month.
As a kidney specialist, I am often asked if it’s all right for kidney patients to fast. The answer is that it’s okay for patients with mild or moderate kidney problems under minimal medication. But for patients with severe problems, they should refrain from fasting, as upsets in fluid -electrolyte balance can take a toll on the kidney.

The same applies to kidney transplant patients. If their kidney functions are normal and if they can manage their medication adhering to the rules of fasting, then it’s fine. Patients with multiple medical problems have to consult their doctor before undertaking fast.
Patients on dialysis should also refrain from fasting as the functions of kidney are taken over by a machine. Therefore, fasting can lead to disturbances in body fluid -electrolyte balance due to the changes in the body’s metabolism.
Studies done exclusively in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on kidney transplant patients with mild to moderate problems reveal that fasting does not affect them negatively.
As for hypertensive patients, they have to monitor their blood pressure during fast. If pressure gets too erratic, it is not advisable to fast.

In the case of diabetics, the question of whether one can fast or not is a matter to be decided after discussion with doctor. For Type I Diabetic patients, where insulin is the only remedy, it may not be advisable to fast. For Type II patients, for whom treatment involves tablets or insulin, fasting is okay if they can maintain blood sugar in the safe range. Such patients have to be more wary of their blood sugar dropping low, which can cause shivering, coma or even death in extreme cases.
However, by and large people with mild health problems can fast, and it may even be very beneficial to them.

By: Narayanan Nampoory

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