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RIYADH: During the month of Ramadan, Muslims do not eat and drink from sunrise to sunset every day.

In Islam, fasting is a form of worship that fosters spiritual growth and a closer relationship with God. It is also a way to practice self-control and show empathy toward those in need.

As the sun sets each day, the breaking of the fast becomes a moment of gratitude, reflection and unity.

This act of self-discipline not only serves as a means of cleansing the soul and strengthening one’s connection with the divine, but also has profound effects on the body.

Experts in gastroenterology, cardiology and endocrinology say that fasting during Ramadan can positively impact physical health.

It has been shown to improve digestion, boost metabolism and promote weight loss. Moreover, it allows the body to detoxify and rejuvenate, leading to renewed vitality.

Gastroenterologists have noted that fasting can promote a healthy digestive system by giving it a break from constant digestion, allowing it to heal and regulate itself.

Breaking the fast with dates during Ramadan connects to Islamic customs and is considered spiritually important, as Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, used to do.

Dates are a good source of nutrients, including carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, magnesium and potassium. Consumption of dates leads to a quick increase in blood sugar levels, and the high amount of carbohydrates in dates helps prolong the feeling of fullness.

According to Cleveland Clinic hospital, most gastrointestinal diseases and conditions can be treated or prevented.

These include irritable bowel syndrome, which causes bloating, painful abdominal cramps, constipation, and sometimes diarrhea. Other examples are gallstones, pancreatitis, hepatitis, and malabsorption syndromes.

Dr. Adeeb El-Ghalayini told Arab News that fasting for a month has tremendous value and impact on the gastrointestinal system for people suffering from chronic problems or healthy people who want to maintain their gut health.

El-Ghalayini is the head of the gastroenterology and endoscopy unit, a gastroenterology and therapeutic endoscopy consultant, and a fellowship program director at the International Medical Center, or IMC, in Jeddah.

He said that to reap the benefits of fasting during Ramadan, individuals must follow healthy, clean and light dietary habits.

Doing so allows the body to detoxify and boost immunity against bacteria and viruses accumulated in the gastrointestinal system over the years.

“The main idea is to give our GI system resting periods to allow the normal and healthy flora that line our stomach and bowels to replicate and get rid of the bad bacteria that cause bloating, pain, acid reflux, and more,” said El-Ghalayini.

The healthy flora will then allow better absorption of nutrients, providing a great energy source and reducing fatigue at the beginning of Ramadan.

He added that by the end of Ramadan, gastrointestinal symptoms should improve noticeably, and the frequency of complaints during the rest of the year should decrease.

Cardiologists have found that fasting can improve cardiovascular health in people with and without preexisting conditions.

“Fasting has several positive impacts on cardiovascular risk factors, such as reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, improving insulin sensitivity, and promoting weight loss, which will lead to decreased future cardiac events such as heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Seraj Abualnaja told Arab News.

Abualnaja is a consultant interventional cardiologist, and head of the cardiac center at IMC in Jeddah.

Dr. El-Ghalayini said that by the end of Ramadan, gastrointestinal symptoms should improve noticeably, and the frequency of our regular complaints during the rest of the year should decrease. (Supplied)

While fasting can be beneficial, Abualnaja said that “individuals with cardiovascular issues should consult their physician before fasting during Ramadan to assess their health status and provide personalized recommendations accordingly.”

Endocrinologists have also observed that fasting can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for those with diabetes or at risk of developing the disease.

Dr. Ahmed BaSaeed, an endocrinology, metabolic disease, and internal medicine consultant at The First Clinic in Jeddah, told Arab News: “Fasting improves blood sugar levels, particularly for patients with diabetes type 2, as we decrease the amount of food intake and are not allowed to eat during the daytime.”

BaSaeed said that non-diabetic individuals who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for developing diabetes.

“Fasting helps promote a healthier lifestyle by reducing calories, sugars, soda drinks, and starch, thus promoting weight loss.”

He said people should avoid high-glycemic-index foods such as white bread, sweets and pasta, which rapidly increase blood sugar and bad cholesterol.

BaSaeed said it is important to avoid consuming large amounts of food quickly. There should be a focus on having a balanced diet with an increase in protein intake.

“Diabetic patients should measure their blood sugar more frequently, particularly patients on insulin or medications that increase the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.”

If blood sugar reaches low levels — 70 milligrams per deciliter or below — diabetic individuals must break their fast immediately, said BaSaeed.

The doctors agree that avoiding the undesirable effects of fasting is mainly done through a balanced diet.

El-Ghalayini said: “The only way to deal with the undesirable effects of fasting is to divide our meals into small portions after breakfast, avoid food binging, and try to start with warm liquids that help to increase the blood supply to the GI system as if we are warming up.”

Drinking plenty of water and increasing fiber intake is essential to avoid indigestion or constipation, as this is common during the month.

“Maintaining regular exercise and refraining from smoking is also important during Ramadan,” said Abualnaja.

Beyond the physical benefits, fasting during Ramadan fosters a sense of empathy and solidarity with the less fortunate, as individuals experience the pangs of hunger and thirst firsthand.

For millions of Muslims worldwide, fasting during Ramadan is a powerful reminder of the importance of self-discipline, compassion and spiritual growth.

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