Benefits of Fasting

July 1, 2015

Author: Nosheen Hayat, former Research Associate for CMBM, has a B.S. in dietetics and is currently a graduate student at University of Michigan working on her MPH in nutritional sciences.

The Benefits of Fasting

Although Ramadan is mainly thought to be a month for spiritual rejuvenation, there are many ways we can benefit from it if we just take the right steps. One of these steps is to focus on our dietary habits, and how they can, in conjunction with worship, energize our mind, body, and soul.

Some benefits of fasting include:

Rest. Although by the time iftaar (breaking of the fast at sunset) comes around, we’re all pretty much exhausted, fasting actually allows your body to rest. When we eliminate food and drink, our body can direct that energy it uses to digest and process our food towards other bodily functions.

Detofixication. While the body gets rest from digesting all the food we eat, it can focus on cleansing itself of toxins, and repairing itself.

Reduces risk for chronic diseases. Recent research has shown that fasting intermittently during the week (much like the Islamic tradition of fasting Mondays and Thursdays) can decrease your risk for diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Protects your brain. Some research has shown that when you fast, you protect your brain. In one study, fasting promoted “neuronal autophagy,” which is scientific for cells detoxifying themselves by destroying damaged organelles and old proteins. In another study, fasting increases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which plays a role in memory, learning, and thought process. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There’s way more research out there, but I’m just highlighting some.

Normalizes main hormones linked to eating. Fasting helps normalize your insulin, leptin, and ghrelin levels. Insulin is the hormone that is responsible for controlling blood sugar levels, and leptin is the hormone that tells you when you’re full. Ghrelin is your “hunger” hormone–it tells you when you need to eat. Normalizing these levels means that your body will be more sensitive to them, and you won’t need more of each hormone to get the job done. Having an insensitivity to insulin can manifest itself as diabetes, and an insensitivity to leptin and ghrelin can lead to obesity because your body can no longer regulate your eating habits.