The scientific benefits of fasting: Ramadan 2020

The scientific benefits of fasting. Photo source: Wallpaper Access
The scientific benefits of fasting. Photo source: Wallpaper Access
18 Min Read

Scientists discover lots of scientific benefits of fasting. Muslims taking part in Ramadan do not eat or drink anything during daylight hours, the science behind it is revealing some surprising health and scientific benefits of fasting.

The difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the food; during Ramadan, actually, we miss lunch and take an early breakfast and do not eat until dusk.

Abstinence from water for 12 or so hours is not necessarily bad for health and in fact, it causes the concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration.

The body has its water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve their longevity.

Fasting in Ramadan | The scientific benefits of fasting

Worried that fasting during Ramadan will have a detrimental impact on health? Find out why the month-long fast can have some surprising health and scientific benefits.

If you’re one of those worriers, then check out these 18 scientific benefits of fasting. You’ll enjoy it during and after Ramadan.

18 scientific benefits of fasting that will surprise you

Fasting has been shown to have many scientific and health benefits, from increased weight loss to better brain function. Here are 18 scientific benefits of fasting that will surprise you.

  1. Aids Weight Loss by Limiting Calorie Intake and Boosting Metabolism
  2. Fasting Improves Insulin Sensitivity
  3. May Enhance Heart Health by Improving Blood Pressure, Triglycerides and Cholesterol Levels
  4. Fasting Speeds Up The Metabolism
  5. Promotes Better Health by Fighting Inflammation
  6. Fasting Promotes Longevity
  7. May Boost Brain Function and Prevent Neurodegenerative Disorders
  8. Fasting Improves Hunger
  9. May Aid in Cancer Prevention and Increase the Effectiveness of Chemotherapy
  10. Fasting Improves Your Eating Patterns
  11. Promotes Blood Sugar Control by Reducing Insulin Resistance
  12. Fasting Improves Your Brain Function
  13. Fasting Improves Your Immune System
  14. Increases Growth Hormone Secretion, Which Is Vital for Growth, Metabolism, Weight Loss and Muscle Strength
  15. Fasting Contributes To Self-Enlightenment
  16. Fasting Helps Clear The Skin And Prevent Acne
  17. Promotes detoxification
  18. Could Delay Aging and Extend Longevity

Read: What Is Ketogenic Diet? Ketogenic diet plan and menu

This note consists of 5 sections

  1. The medicinal and physical benefits
  2. Fasting and biorhythm
  3. The benefits of the night prayers (especially Taraweeh)
  4. The psychological benefits associated with Ramadan
  5. How to maintain a healthy diet in Ramadan

The physiological effect of fasting

The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol, and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension.

In 1994 the first International Congress on “Health and Ramadan”, held in Casablanca, entered 50 extensive studies on the medical ethics of fasting. While improvement in many medical conditions was noted; however, in no way did fasting worsen any patients’ health or their baseline medical condition.

On the other hand, patients who are suffering from severe diseases, whether type I diabetes or coronary artery disease, kidney stones, etc., are exempt from fasting and should not be allowed to fast.

The original meaning of ‘Sawm’

The original meaning of ‘Sawm’ is to be at rest. We give rest to the gastrointestinal tract, the sexual organs, the tongue, the eyes, and ears, etc. The transit time for a bolus of food from the mouth to the end of the large intestine, called the colon, is about 12 to 14 hours.

Fasting is an additional safety device for the regenerative processes of the body. The repair processes of the body and the brain, including the memory molecules take place when the body is at rest, especially during the stage of deep sleep. Sleeping during Ramadan is much deeper than at other times. Two hours of sleep during Ramadan are more satisfying and refreshing than more hours of sleep otherwise.

Fasting significantly increases deep sleep and reduces the dreaming time, which takes place during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Therefore, it is more beneficial for the elderly to fast because their normal hours of deep sleep in the non-fasting state are much less.

Fasting is a divine prescription

Fasting is a divine prescription because Allah Himself prescribed it in The Qur’an. Because the Islamic fast does not exceed 14 hours or so, the normal steady state of the body is maintained as a result of coordinated physiological mechanisms. Hence, nearly all the biochemical results in the laboratory are normal.

  1. During fasting, serum magnesium is increased and Magnesium has cardio-protective effects and it is being used in the prevention and treatment of heart attacks. It has anti-platelet properties and prevents extension of the clot.
  2. It is a membrane stabilizer acting on the sodium/potassium/ calcium flux at the membrane level. Hence, it prevents cardiac and cerebral dysrhythmias.
  3. Fasting, through the beneficial effects of magnesium, prevents the formation of atheromas well as dissolves athermanous plaques which are responsible for heart attacks and strokes. Hence, fasting takes an active part in the rejuvenating processes of the body through many channels.
  4. It increases the Fibrinolytic activity of the blood, which leads to the prevention and also dissolution of any recent clot.
  5. Ramadan puts a healthy mind into a healthy body. During fasting, there is increased secretion of the growth hormone by the pituitary gland. It is an anabolic hormone for the synthesis of proteins and collagen, which produces a positive nitrogen balance. It also stimulates Erythropoiesis, as well as collagen synthesis.

Exercise of fasting

During the exercise of fasting, prayers, and different spiritual experiences of Ramadan, certain endogenous substances are released by the brain and spinal cord into the body called Opioids, which include Enkephalins and endorphins.

These are responsible for euphoria, tranquility, and serenity during such periods. Endorphins and Enkephalins are natural painkillers.

Endorphins may be responsible for the “feel nice” effects, experienced by many people after rigorous exercise. Endorphins and Enkephalins are derived from beta – Lipotropin.

Effects of fasting on human body in Ramadan

On release, it is cleaved to form three major active products:

called met-Enkephalins, gamma-endorphin, and beta-endorphin. Beta-endorphin is most active and is about 20 times as potent as morphine.

In addition to their painkilling properties, the narcotic analgesics cause a profound feeling of well-being (euphoria). It is this feeling that is in part responsible for the psychological drive of certain persons who are fasting. Other mechanisms reduce pain sensation by blocking the transmission of pain messages to the brain.

To alter the pain sensation, the brain and spinal cord release specialized neurotransmitters called endorphins and Enkephalins. These chemicals interfere with pain impulse transmission by occupying the nerve cell receptors, required to send the impulse across the synapse.

By making the pain impulse travel less efficiently, endorphins and Enkephalins can significantly lessen the perception of pain. In extreme circumstances, they can even make severe injuries nearly painless.

Fasting and bio-rhythm

Muslims who have been fasting regularly since childhood have been exposed to different sleep/wake and light/darkness cycles daily in one annual lunar month. Hence, it may be easier for such persons to synchronize at a faster rate their circadian, circa-lunar and circa-annual bio-rhythms, under difficult conditions.

Therefore, it is expected that Muslims who fast regularly would least suffer from jet lag while traveling in a plane from West to Eastland that health problems in Muslim shift-workers would be minimal.

The central circadian biological clock is located in the Suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. It is a cluster of about 10,000 neurons on either side of the midline, above the optic Chiasma about 3 cm behind the eye.

Re-setting proceeds at the rate of 1-2 hours/day to adapt to a reversed shift pattern. There are wide individual variations in the rapidity of resynchronization.

Scientist Explains Health Benefits of Ramadan Dry Fasting

Muslims who fast regularly and who have had disturbing wakefulness/ sleep cycles on a daily lunar annual basis can adapt themselves much faster to different conditions during international travel. This is while crossing time zones and do not suffer from the ill effects of jet lag.

It is also a common observation that as soon as Ramadan is over, normal circadian rhythms are established within the fasted Muslim, with such great rapidity on the first day of the following month of Shawal. This means that Eid-al-Fitr (Minor Feast) is to be at par with pre-Ramadan levels.

Normally, a period of three weeks is required for resynchronization, among shift workers. As the fasting Muslim attunes himself to resynchronization processes, during the space of just over four weeks in Ramadan, his health problems – as a shift worker – would be negligible. His synchronization processes would be more rapid, whether during Ramadan or any other time.

The scientific benefits of fasting at long night prayers

Moreover, the social contact during Taraweeh or Qiyam (long night prayers) and other social spiritual activities should act as a Zeitgeber (from German ‘time-giver’). This is what regulates any desynchronized biological rhythm.

Throughout the year, the average Muslim performs his 5-time daily obligatory prayers, as well as the optional ones. This amounts to gentle physical exercise, involving each muscle in the body. During the month of fasting, additional prayers of 8 to 20 (recommended) raka’ahs (physical unit of prayer) are also performed at nights.

Approximately, 200 kcals. are utilized during Qiyam for the 20 raka’ahs. Such additional exercise utilizes any extra calories, ingested at Iftar (meal for breaking the fast) approximately 1-2 hours earlier. Simultaneously, the blood glucose is steadily rising in the blood from the ingested nutrients; the circulating glucose is oxidized to CO2 and H20 during the prayers.

The physical movements during Qiyam prayers improve flexibility, coordination, and relaxation response. It also reduces stress-related autonomic responses in normal persons and relieves anxiety and depression.

The physical exercise of Qiyam

Adrenaline and noradrenalin are secreted during the physical exercise of Qiyam. They are responsible for the consequent dynamism, which now combines with tranquility and serenity, due to the secretion of Enkephalins, endorphins, Dynorphins, and others.

This makes the night prayers unique in the sense that dynamism is combined in the same individual with serenity, euphoria, and dignity. The effects of adrenaline and Noradrenaline are apparent, even after long night prayers are over, as evidenced by the continuing activity.

In fact, even the thought or intention of performing Qiyam prayers is sufficient to activate the sympathetic nervous system. Persons who fast and perform Qiyam report feeling much better and healthier.

Improve muscle tone and power during prayers

Repeated and regular movements of the body during prayers improve muscle tone and power, tendon strength, joint flexibility, and the cardio-vascular reserve. The body movements for 30 consecutive days contribute towards helping prevent osteoporosis in the osteoporosis bones of elderly men and post-menopausal women.

The strain put on the forearm, during prostration in lifting the body from the ground, increases the bone mineral content of the forearm. The varying load during the different postures causes a lubricating effect and a protective flow of Synovial fluid into the joint cavity.

The reinforcement of the calf muscle pump by active ankle movements prevents deep vein thrombosis, which is a common cause of chronic ulcers of the legs in the elderly.

Exercise prevents coronary heart disease, improves carbohydrate tolerance, and ameliorates late-onset type 2 diabetes. Growth hormone secretion elevated by fasting is further elevated by the exercise of long night prayers.

As this hormone is necessary for collagen formation, this may be an important factor in the long delay of the wrinkling of skin for the fasting Muslim who performs Qiyam prayers.

Prayers improve memory in the elderly

The exercise of Qiyam improves mood, thought, and behavior. Memory for short-term events deteriorates with old age. Prayers improve memory in the elderly, for short-term events, by keeping the memory pathways in the brain open and communicating with each other.

Especially with constant repetition of the verses from The Holy Qur’an and other supplications of Allah (swt’s) glory. This also helps to screen the mind from other incoming thoughts.

The repetition of a prayer, supplications of glorification, Dhikr (words glorifying Allah swt) or muscular activity, coupled with passive disregard of intrusive thoughts, causes relaxation response, leading to lowering of B.P. and decrease in oxygen consumption, as well as a reduction in the heart and respiratory rates.

All these are combined in Qiyam prayers, which is an ideal situation for relaxation response, as it combines repeated muscular activity with repetition of words of glorification of Allah (swt) and supplications.

Thus Qiyam puts the mind at ease. Islamic prayers are unique in that tension builds up in the muscles, during the physical movements of prayers, with accompanying adrenaline and noradrenalin.

Simultaneously, tension is relieved in the mind due to the spiritual component, assisted by the secretion of Enkephalins, endorphins, Dynorphins, and others.

All those persons who perform Qiyam prayers feel more alert and active, even after the age of retirement. They can meet with unexpected challenges of life much better, such as running for a bus or playing with their grandkids! This improves their stamina, self-esteem, and self-confidence in being independent.

The psychological benefits of fasting

There are psychological effects of fasting as well. There is a wave of peace and tranquility for those who fast during the month of Ramadan. Personal hostility is at a minimum and the crime rate decreases.

Aggression across borders in some countries is at a stand-still due to Ramadan. Muslims take advice from the Prophet (saw) who said, “If one slanders you or aggresses against you, say I am fasting.”

This psychological improvement could be related to better stabilization of blood glucose during fasting as hypoglycemia after eating, aggravates behavior changes. There is a beneficial effect of extra prayer at night as mentioned earlier.

This not only helps with better utilization of food but also helps in energy output. There is 10 extra calories output for each unit of the prayer. Again, we do not do prayers for exercise, but a mild movement of the joints with extra calorie utilization is a better form of exercise.

Similarly, recitation of The Qur’an and the learning of Aayahs not only produces a tranquility of heart and mind but improves memory as well.

Maintaining a healthy diet during Ramadan Fasting

Understanding what Ramadan is and the sanctity of the fast is important to all of us whether we are Muslim or non-Muslims. The Fast of Ramadan lasts the entire ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, whereby Muslims fast during daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit friends and family.

The goal of fasting is to teach patience, discipline, modesty, and spirituality. Whoever is observing a lengthy period of fasting must stay healthy, eat wisely, and sleep enough.

Is there anything to watch out for during Ramadan fasting?

Unfortunately, a lot of people gorge themselves on heavy and fatty food at Iftar each day without considering what the body actually needs and how much one should eat immediately when breaking a day-long fast.

Health problems can emerge as a result of excess food intake and foods that make the diet unbalanced. Insufficient sleep is also an issue. Ramadan fasting improves the health condition of healthy people.

But people who suffer from any medical condition should monitor their body more closely. Our diet should not differ much from our normal diet and should be as simple as possible. It should be such that we maintain our normal weight.

Apart from the spiritual side, can an individual see any scientific benefits of fasting?

It is an effective detoxification therapy as toxins will break down and pass out of the body. Also, fasting is ideal for both the overweight and underweight. For the overweight, deposited fat gets used and burns down, facilitating weight loss.

For the underweight, fasting also normalizes the digestive system and equips a body to digest and assimilate nutrients. Fasting can also clear many skin problems.

This is because of the elimination of toxic materials. Fasting also has advantages in getting rid of addictions and habits like smoking and drinking alcohol.

What kinds of foods and drinks should we be taking on board in the morning and evening?

First of all, it is vital to drink sufficient water between Iftar and sleep to avoid dehydration- aim to drink one gallon between Iftar and Suhoor. For Suhoor, i.e. starting your fast before dawn, keep it light and healthy.

This is your last meal for a while and it is important to keep the body nourished and alert – not stuffed with unhealthy foods that will make you feel lethargic, hungry, thirsty, or bloated. For Iftar, at sunset, dates, soups, and fresh juices are traditionally consumed.

Dates are a staple fruit of the Middle East, having been in cultivation for thousands of years. And they are perfect for Iftar across the world, as your body will be looking for an easily available energy source in the form of glucose.

Having moderate amounts of dates and fluids (water, juice, and soup) are good sources of sugars and are sufficient to bring low blood glucose levels to normal levels. This also ensures that the body fluid levels are balanced as juice and soup help maintain water and mineral balance in the body.

However, the keyword is moderation as it is easy to eat an excess of sugary or fatty foods and gain weight. Also, we often see a lot of people suffer from increased gastric acidity. Symptoms include a burning feeling in the stomach, heaviness in the stomach, and a sour mouth.

Whole wheat bread, vegetables, hummus, beans, and fruits are excellent sources of dietary fiber that help reduce gastric acidity and excess bile acids. Light meat such as chicken and fish at times are also recommended to maintain a balanced meal.

What foods and drinks should we avoid?

Increasingly, people are becoming more aware and healthy regarding their food choices. First of all, avoid eating an excess of carbohydrates. Avoid intake of excessive sugary foods and also spicy food.

It is better to stay away from caffeine drinks such as coke, coffee, or tea. Slowly reduce your intake now a sudden break may prompt headaches, mood swings, and irritability. Also, avoid snacks high in salt like chips or nuts.

Note that the dinner should be taken before Ishaa Salaah and Taraweeh, so the time afterward is spent in Ibaadah, prayers, and Dhikr. Also, ensure that women are not made to cook all day– hence, keep the meals simple and humble, so they get the time to engage in equal Ibaadah and prayers, during their day, and post-Iftaar as well.

When considering dinner, post-Iftar, it is important to include food from all these food groups

  1. Meat/Bean Group: A good source of protein, minerals, and certain vitamins. Beans are a good source of dietary fiber.
  2. Bread/Cereal Group: A good source of energy, this also provides some protein, minerals, and dietary fiber.
  3. Milk Group: Protein and calcium are essential for body tissue maintenance and several physiological functions.
  4. Vegetable Group: Provides dietary fiber as well as vitamin A, carotene, Lycopene’s, and antioxidants. Helpful in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and many health problems.
  5. Fruits Group: This should be the last item of the dinner or eaten soon after dinner, to facilitate digestion and prevent gastrointestinal problems.

As we know, foods with fiber help reduce both gastric acidity and surplus bile acids. Remember to add fruits into your Suhoor dietary plans as well, to ensure a good source of fiber.

Health benefits of Ramadan fasting

Muslims do not fast because of medical, physical, or health benefits which are secondary. Fasting has been used by patients for weight management, to rest the digestive tract and for lowering lipids. There are many adverse effects of total fasting as well as crash diets.

Islamic fasting is different from such diet plans because, in Ramadan fasting, there is no malnutrition or inadequate calorie intake. The calorie intake of Muslims during Ramadan is at or slightly below the nutritional requirement guidelines. Also, the fasting in Ramadan is voluntarily taken and is not a prescribed imposition from the physician.

Ramadan is a month of self-regulation and self-training, with the hope that this training will last beyond the end of Ramadan. If the lessons learned during Ramadan, whether in terms of dietary intake or righteousness, are carried on after Ramadan, their effects will be long-lasting.

Moreover, the type of food taken during Ramadan does not have any selective criteria of crash diets such as those which are protein only or fruit only type diets. Everything permissible is taken in moderate quantities.

The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol, and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension.

Happy Ramadan to all Muslims.

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