Fasting has always been one of our main pillars as Muslims. Fasting on the holy month of Ramadan is considered one of the highest of prayers a person must commit to. Abstaining from food, water, sexual intercourse and smoking from dusk till dawn is the basic principle of fasting for us as Muslims. We’ve been fasting this way for more than 1400 years and reaping many of its benefits, both physically and spiritually. The health benefits of fasting are many in numbers and the science that backs them further interesting as follows.
Improved brain function
The benefits of fasting extend to the brain as well as the rest of the body. The Brain-Derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is the key player in bringing about the change due to fasting since the intermittent gap between food intakes activates these proteins. BDNF is found in the regions in the brain that control eating, drinking and body weight. BDNF activates stem cells in the brain that gets converted into (nerve cells) neurons and play a role in their growth and maturation. These proteins are also activated in connection between nerve cells (synapses). Over the time with the stimulus experience, they adapt and develop accordingly which is the theory behind learning and memory. In layman terms the brain produces the basic building blocks and renews its pieces due to BDNF. Moreover, BDNF defends the brain from conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
A study tabled in the 2015’s Society for Neuroscience meeting allowed a look into the capabilities of fasting to enhance memory and recovery after brain injuries or stroke while promoting growth of neurons. Multiple studies have come up demonstrating these claims to date.
Cardiovascular diseases have been the leading cause of death globally with an astounding estimation of 31.5 percent. Fasting has been known as a preventive measure from a number of these heart diseases.
A study done in the University of Illinois showed that 8 weeks of alternative day fasting reduced the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides by 25% and 32% respectively. Another study indicated obese adults who fasted for three under supervised circumstances showed a decrease in blood pressure, blood triglycerides, total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol.
In addition, an extensive study done in 2001 Utah, USA showed correlation between a reduced risk of diabetes in fasting individuals.
Fasting when done on its optimal way, has a great impact on our largest organ skin. Researchers have reported new insights about alterations in skin cells in response to reduced caloric intake. Fasting reboots the gut microbiome, which is the origin of most inflammation in the body which decreases systemic inflammatory processes. Aging and development of acne comes under inflammatory processes. In addition, during the period of fasting, the body can allocate more energy to other organs of the body such as liver, kidney and the skin since it doesn’t have to focus on digesting as much. This allows for the skin to generate new cells and get rid of old cell material allowing for a better look as well as a faster scar healing process.
The immune system is referred to as the defense mechanism of the body. The one that keeps us safe from harmful bacteria as well as diseases. One of the key components to this mechanism is the white blood cell. Due to the newfound focus on rejuvenation of body cells due to fasting the body creates these white blood cells more often. A study done in the USC Longevity Institute states that the body is able to completely regenerate the whole of its immune system in just three days of fasting. In addition, fasting acts as a natural protective step in reducing cancerous cells in the body as well as reduced levels of inflammation.
Fasting as we know it brings about countless benefits. Of which health benefits are plenty. For this reason, it is an important step to take with great potential for everyone. With medical supervision let us start a lifestyle that can incorporate casual fasting into our daily life.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Asima Ahmed, MD.
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