Most Muslims who fast during the month-long Islamic festival of Ramadan do so under direction from the Quran, but those who abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours may also experience health benefits as a result.

If done right, those who participate in fasting during Ramadan can not only see a rise in spirituality and giving, but also health benefits such as weight loss and overcoming addictions.

It’s possible to see benefits from fasting during Ramadan because food consumption is often different from usual diets, as malnutrition and insufficient calorie intake are avoided during the religious holiday.

Fasting during Ramadan can help lead to weight loss because the body’s energy is replaced during the eating periods. Instead of using glucose as the principal source of energy, the body instead turns to fat, which prevents muscle from breaking down for protein.

Using fat as energy instead of glucose preserves the muscles, in turn reducing cholesterol levels, helping with weight loss. In doing so, blood pressure can improve and be controlled better.

A study by the Annals of Nutrition Metabolism in 1997 showed just this. Results of the study revealed that, by fasting, LDL cholesterol levels, the bad lipoproteins, dropped by 8%, whereas HDL cholesterol levels, the good lipoproteins, rose by 14.3%.

Such a phenomenon can be explained by the eating and exercise behaviors of those who fast during Ramadan. Studies have shown that people often turn to healthier options during the holiday, which reduces saturated fat consumption.

Such studies have also seen an increase in physical activity during Ramadan, as exercise from the night prayers, known as “tawarih,” may be equivalent to moderate physical activity for some.

Fasting can also help those with addictions. Though self-restraint, another teaching of Ramadan, the body goes through a detoxification process, which in turn can help those who fast overcome additions such as smoking.

By understanding the teachings of self-restraint and learning from them, those who fast may find it easier to forget addictions during the day when fasting occurs.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Al Arabiya News, Mosque of Tucson, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, National Health Service of England
Photo: Flickr

fasting for hunger
Two weeks ago, the Immanuel Baptist Church encouraged dozens of people to go hungry, ironically to raise awareness for world hunger.

The inescapable irony of consensual fasts is that starving one individual does not automatically feed another.

Even more ironic, of course, is that the Immanuel Baptist Church is not the first religious institution to hold a fast to raise hunger awareness. Last April, World Vision held its annual 30-Hour Famine. Participants included high school students, college students and young adults.

“It’s tiring and at the end everybody’s hungry,” admitted 13-year-old Logan Cox, who volunteered with the Immanuel Baptist Church.

Nevertheless, when it comes to raising money for causes, the most profitable ventures tend to be those that ask its participants to do something that would otherwise be deemed impractical or downright stupid.

A fine example of this trend is the Ice Bucket Challenge of last summer. What started as an inane summertime campaign to cool down and select a charity for donations became distinctly linked to ALS once one of the nominees nominated his wife’s cousin, whose husband had the disease.

What’s so ironic about voluntarily self-submersing in paralyzingly cold water? The disease for which it raises money is known for incapacitating its victims by weakening the muscles progressively until the stricken cannot walk, speak, swallow or breathe.

A particular weakness of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that such a chilling movement can only be replicated during the warmest months of the year. As one Facebook user, who wished to remain anonymous, astutely asked last November, “Does nobody care about ALS anymore?”

Beyond technical issues like timing, the prevailing trend within these movements involves the kind of suffering people are willing to put themselves through in order to placate their inherent feelings of guilt for not having been born into poverty or beset with a life-threatening condition.

The question remains, do they raise money because people believe in the cause? Or are they effective because of the publicity that comes with collective self-sacrifice?

Perhaps there is another reason that unorthodox fundraisers are effective. Whether it’s dumping ice water for ALS, going hungry for world hunger, or running the Boston Marathon for cancer victims who are too weak to run, they all unite the global community in an act of solidarity. Maybe the acts of starving, freezing, dehydrating, cramping and collapsing are worthwhile endeavors at awakening empathy for the profoundly disadvantaged.

But what does that say about the people who choose to dedicate their professional lives to easing the burdens of others? Are they not the ones most worthy of all that publicity and honor?

Maybe the people who care most do not help the needy for fame or glory. In a culture that worships the rich and famous for being filmed while doing stupid things, it is policemen, doctors, nurses, teachers, firemen and human rights workers who bring balance and order to abject dysfunction.

What sets these workers apart is their willingness to contribute on a daily basis to make the world a little safer, fairer, healthier and more educated. Far from a media holiday and a chance to show off in front of their friends, they see service as a civic obligation. Not a want, but a must.

Leah Zazofsky

Sources: ALS Association, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, TIME, World Vision
Photo: NBC News

As many Senegalese begin celebrating Ramadan, those with diabetes must be particularly careful fasting and feasting because it can trigger complications, and put their health at risk.

Every year during Ramadan in Senegal, there is a spike in those needing urgent hospitalization due to uncontrolled diabetes. To help solve this problem is mDiabetes, a free service that sends text messages to mobile phones before, during and after the month of Ramadan to give those with diabetes tips and tricks to fasting safely.

Text messages include advice such as,

“Drink one liter of water every morning before you begin fasting.”

“Take care to not overeat and watch out for foods high in sugar such as dates.”

“Ask your doctor to adapt the dose and timing of your diabetes medication before you fast.”

Simple texts like these will help the thousands of people living in Senegal with diabetes, which has increased in the past decade due to rapid urbanization. Obesity in young people has escalated drastically, putting them at risk for type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that four to six percent of the Senegalese population are living with diabetes, at least 400,000 people, yet only 60,000 have been diagnosed.

Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that many are unaware that they even have diabetes since they do not know the causes or symptoms. This is particularly common in rural areas where access to health services is limited.

mDiabetes is part of a campaign by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) called, “Be [email protected] Be Mobile.” Through the use of technology such as text messages and apps, they can “control, prevent, and manage non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.”

Similar programs have been implemented in other countries such as the mCessation program in Costa Rica for tobacco, mCervical cancer program in Zambia and others like mHypoertension and mWellness have been planned for the future.

Eighty-three percent of the Senegalese population have mobile telephones, and 40 percent of those have smart phones, capable of receiving pictures and videos. Utilizing this technology that is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the daily lives of those around the world, is effective way to educate thousands, at no cost to the public.

Thanks to mDiabetes, this Ramadan thousands of Senegalese will be able to fully practice their faith without risking their health.

— Kim Tierney

Sources: World Health Organization, Diabetes and Ramadan International Alliance
Photo: Hong Kiat

On the 11th day of a hunger strike, Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to a Fast for Families strike tent on the National Mall in Washington. The Vice President then prayed with the group and encouraged their efforts to bring immigration reform.

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill (S.744) in June. However, the House of Representatives has been deadlocked on the issue. Fast for Families supporters have vowed to fast until the House votes on the immigration reform bill that has already passed in the Senate. The Fast for Families effort in Washington is in conjunction with local fasts and events taking place in congressional districts all over the country.

The Vice President’s visit inspired the fasters as he addressed the crowd saying, “[w]e’re going to win this.” Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama have struggled to keep immigration issues in the spotlight since the President made a promise to bring immigration reform in his campaign.

Biden also said during his visit to the Fast for Families tent, that the 11 million undocumented men, women, and children working for citizenship are already Americans. Throughout the first eleven days, Fast for Families has been visited by many public officials including Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Fasters have vowed that they will continue fasting until they can no longer sustain themselves or are “medically prevented” from continuing. Long time immigration reform activists participating in the fast received the Vice President’s visit and message as inspiring. In fact, Biden’s visit, in connection with House Speaker John Boehner’s recent comments at a news conference on November 21 that immigration reform is not dead, has offered hope to immigration reform advocates and a sign that the change they hope for is coming.

For more information and Fast for Families updates, please visit

Daren Gottlieb

Sources: Time, Los Angeles Times, Fast for Families
Photo: Media Heavy