The benefits of fasting in Ramadan – and at any other time of the year – are backed up by a range of clinical studies that help explain how the spiritual practice is also leading to improved blood sugar control, decreased inflammation and enhanced heart health. Dr Vicente Mera, head of internal medicine and anti-aging at SHA Wellness Clinic in Dubai, outlines some of how that is happening.
1. Fat Loss
Fasting can improve the body’s metabolism and support with burning fat. This works by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Together with adrenaline, norepinephrine increases heart rate and blood pumping from the heart. It also increases blood pressure and helps break down fat and increase blood sugar levels to provide more energy to the body.
2. Cognitive Function
As a result of the development of new brain cells, fasting can be a method of ‘supercharging’ the brain, sharpening responses to external stimuli. Some studies have also indicated that fasting can also make the brain more resilient to stress, more adaptable to change, and can improve mood, memory and even learning capacity.
3. Regulates ‘bad’ cholesterol
Recent studies found that fasting can have an effect on the lipid profile of blood, which measures the level of abnormalities such as cholesterol and triglycerides. Research has found that after 10-12 hours of fasting, the body begins to pull LDL cholesterol also known as “bad” cholesterol from fat cells and use it for energy. According to Dr. Vicente Mera, this process can help to combat insulin resistance, a condition in which the body produces insulin but can’t use it effectively, causing blood glucose levels to be elevated. Insulin resistance is a risk factor leading to diabetes. The process can also reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other diseases.
4. Reduced appetite
Fasting for periods of time gives the digestive system an opportunity to rest which can, in turn, reduce the size of the stomach. Those who fast regularly often report reduced cravings for high-sugar foods, according to Dr. Vicente Mera.
5. Brain health
Several studies have indicated that fasting could have a powerful effect on brain health, leading to an improvement in cognitive function. According to Dr Vicente, fasting can offer numerous brain benefits, such as increasing the level of nerve growth factor (NGF). This protein can help regulate neurons’ growth, maintenance, proliferation, and survival. NGF is essential for the growth of neurons and improving the function of both the peripheral and central nervous systems. Fasting also increases the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the survival of existing brain cells and encourages the growth of new ones. Higher levels of BDNF have been attributed to a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.