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The Shared Science behind Ramadan and Intermittent Fasting – When Two Worlds Collide

Fasting during Ramadan doesn’t just benefit us spiritually, but it’s a chance for us to detox our bodies too.

In the last decade, Ramadan has been dressed up in a palatable form of understanding through intermittent fasting. This has allowed an emerging audience of non-Muslim health enthusiasts to understand the benefits of abstaining from food and water. Fasting is not only about the physical limitations we put on ourselves, but equally about the mental conditioning and discipline we receive.

As well as being fard (compulsory), there is science behind fasting that’s important to highlight.

Believers, fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you become mindful of Allah” (Baqarah: 183).

Fasting is not something exclusive to Islam; rather, it has been prescribed in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Greek philosophy. Hippocrates, a well known Greek physician, was known to recommend fasting in order to help with healing. He stated ‘To eat when you are sick, is to feed your illness.’

It is also a component of Ayurvedic medicine too, which recommends engaging in a fast once a week.

Defining our relationship with food

Greed is something that has defined the 21st century in various ways other than food – but that’s a topic for another day.

Modern day food culture has cultivated overconsumption within our society. We live in a convenience culture that celebrates ease, meaning we prioritise food that’s quick as opposed to what is nutritional. We suffocate our hunger queues with heavy meals and snacks until they become something we can ignore. Food has become a visual concept, and we now eat with our eyes more so than ever before.

This is reflective in the fast-food market, with the UK seeing a 34% increase in fast- food outlets from 2010 to 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics. Sociologists call this concept the ‘Mcdonaldization‘ of society.

Fasting not only breaks this toxic relationship with food, but also repairs it. It gives us the opportunity to practise discipline, give our stomach’s a break, and evaluate what we put in our bodies.

The rise of intermittent fasting

In the last decade, the benefits of intermittent fasting have been pushed through the digital sphere into the mainstream. This has garnered attention from social media trends, boosting its popularity.

Health practitioners are advocating for it due to the array of health benefits, regardless of ones faith.

The benefits of fasting

  1. Builds self-control and discipline.
  2. Gives our stomachs a break from the laborious job of digestion and excretion.
  3. Helps us to think about our eating habits.
  4. Aids in expelling toxins – detoxifies the body.
  5. Improves our mental and bodily well-being

As well as this, it has an array of benefits on specific organs within our bodies.

The New England Journal of Medicine, a prestigious journal of medicine, published a review of research carried out on fasting titled, “Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease.”  Their conclusions were, “Preclinical studies and clinical trials have shown that intermittent fasting has broad-spectrum benefits for many health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, Mellitus, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders. Although we do not fully understand the specific mechanisms, the beneficial effects of intermittent fasting involve metabolic switching and cellular stress resistance” (NEJM: December 2019).

Engaging in a fast can also decrease inflammation. Studies found that fasting for one month (Ramadan) decreased levels of inflammation within the body.

(How do we tell the non Muslims they’re basically doing Ramadan?)

When the health benefits of Ramadan are simplified to cater for the 21st secular community, it seems people pay attention a little more. The same people who regard Ramadan as an extreme practise are interested in the detox abilities that intermittent fasting can give them.

Nonetheless, it’s great to see that more people are understanding the positive effect it has, not just for our bodies but for disciplining our minds too.

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