While many enjoy the reflective, spiritual and community aspects that are part of Ramadan, they struggle with moodiness and fatigue, which they attribute to lack of food or water during the day. The truth is that being “moody” and “tired” probably is the result of people experiencing withdrawals from addictive substances, dehydration, poor sleep, lack of exercise and eating poorly at sunset.
The research is conclusive: fasting, when done right, is healing and restorative for your physical health.
Here are some of the ways fasting can impact physical and mental health for the better.
Autophagy is fundamental to the body cleaning, healing and rebuilding itself. When the body gets time off expending energy to digest food, it kicks on its rest and recovery system and starts to clean and heal itself of bacteria and viruses, dead and deteriorated cells and damaged proteins. A lack of autophagy is linked to most mental and physical health problems.⠀
Inflammation is the root cause of many mental and physical health issues such as depression, anxiety, diabetes, autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis and IBS. Fasting reduces monocytes in the blood, which are the cells that cause inflammation in the blood.⠀
Fasting helps to stabilize cortisol and reduce stress, tension, anger, confusion and depression. Some might think that fasting makes them more tired and less focused but, scientifically speaking, abstaining from food and water for a certain period of the day cannot result in people feeling tired and less focused. What they are most likely describing is the first week of detoxing, or poor habits they adopt during the month of Ramadan, such as eating heavy late at night, staying up all night and not focusing on their hydration. If done right and with consideration, you will find yourself with more energy and more clarity.
Learning and memory
This is done by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), related to improved learning capacity and memory. ⠀
Hypertension or prehypertension lowers blood flow to the brain. Low blood flow to the brain has been seen with depression, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and Alzheimer’s. Fasting regulates your blood pressure, improving overall health.
These benefits cannot be utilized, however, without the right intentions on how they spend this month.
Many of the bad habits that are adopted during this month – staying up all night, eating fried and heavy foods, drinking coffee late at night, for example – may be condoned culturally but they are unhealthy, defeating the purpose of this month altogether.
If we fast with intention and are mindful about what we are eating, about staying hydrated, sleeping properly and continuing to do physical exercise, we can fully reap benefits of this special month.
• This article ran in May 2021.
Dr Saliha Afridi
As a clinical psychologist for the past 13 years, Dr Saliha Afridi has spent 12 years working in the UAE and founded The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, a community mental health and wellness clinic providing quality psychological and psychiatric care to children, adults, couples and families.