With Ramadan just around the corner, we are getting ready to fast. But could this ritual promote physical health as well as spiritual growth? Recent research indicates that fasting could have beneficial effects on the body.
Fasting and Your Immune System
In scientific circles, it’s long been known that one of the easiest ways to extend the lifespan of laboratory animals is to reduce their energy intake—in other words, to feed them less. And this works for humans as well.
Researchers at the University of Southern California have found that fasting can dramatically strengthens the immune system. They studied the effects of fasting for 2 to 4 days at the time over a period of six months, and found that fasting triggered the body to eliminate old, inefficient cells and replace them with new, healthy ones.
Health Benefits of Fasting
Fasting promotes some beneficial changes in the body, including:
1. Decreasing insulin and increasing insulin sensitivity
Insulin is also known as the fat-storing hormone. When too much of it is circulating in the blood, the body is triggered into storing the excess glucose in fat cells, causing weight gain. Insulin resistance, when the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, is the pre-cursor to Type 2 diabetes. By decreasing insulin levels and increasing insulin sensitivity, fasting could both aid weight loss, and reduce the risk of diabetes.
2. Decreases IGF-1 levels
The IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) hormone is implicated in aging and some types of cancer. Reducing the levels of this hormone may help to protect against premature aging and chronic disease.
3. Heart Benefits
Fasting has been shown to reduce resting heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and improve resistance to oxidative stress. This means it could reduce the risk of hypertension and heart disease.
Inflammation is at the root cause of many modern diseases, from heart disease and cancer, to ADHD and Alzheimer’s. Reducing inflammation is key to returning your body to a state of good health. A study conducted by Yale University found that fasting can reduce inflammation and therefore reduce the risk of chronic disease.
How Does It Work?
Fasting provides the brain with a challenge, and the brain responds to that challenge by activating adaptive stress response pathways that helps the body cope with stress and resist disease. One of the ways it does this is by recycling the immune cells that are damaged or not working efficiently, and creating new cells, thereby improving your overall health.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
Fasting can also be practiced outside holy Ramadan. The practice of intermittent fasting means you don’t need to avoid eating all day to experience the health benefits.
Intermittent fasting is not a diet. It’s not about changing what you eat, but rather changing WHEN you eat. Why is this important? Because your body is busy doing different things at different times. For 3 to 5 hours after a meal, your body is in a “fed” state, which means it is busy digesting and absorbing food. At this time, your insulin levels are higher. Between 8 to 12 hours after a meal, your body enters the fasting state – here, insulin levels are low, and your body begins to burn fat and regenerate cells.
Intermittent fasting is the practice of changing when you eat so that you give your body some time in the “fasted” state. There are several ways you can do this. The easiest way is to decide to eat only during a certain period of the day. For example, by eating meals only between 1pm and 8pm means that you’re fasting for 16 hours in a 24-hour period (between 8pm and 1pm the next day). You can change the times to suit you. If you’re a morning person you could eat only between 9am and 5pm. If you’re a night owl you could decide to eat only between the hours of 3pm and 11pm.
Intermittent fasting is much easier than dieting, because it involves simply changing the time you eat, rather than what you eat. You’ll be surprised how easy this becomes. Rather than having to learn a different way of cooking, or needing to buy new ingredients, you simply change your meal times slightly and decide not to eat at certain times. Of course, for the best results and to support your health, we highly recommend including foods that are natural, wholesome and plant-based.
Fasting can help reduce inflammation, improve the immune system, and promote weight loss. It seems that fasting during Ramadan isn’t just good for our spiritual health, but can also heal our physical health!