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Health effects of Ramadan

Millions of Muslims around the world are observing their annual spiritual fast, steering clear of daylight eating, drinking and smoking.

Fasting can be risky – it can cause daytime fatigue, headaches and weakness – so the elderly, the very young, the sick and pregnant women are exempt. But, research has shown the practice has some wide-ranging health benefits too – if done right.

Lose weight

It goes without saying that weight loss is far from being the point of Ramadan. But because eating is only permitted after dark, many people consume less food during day time than they would usually, and so they do lose weight.

According to a 2012 study in the medical journal Public Health Nutrition, people lose an average of 1.24 Kg by the end of Ramadan.

Weight loss has many benefits, especially for obese people, including lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. But the research shows most people regain the lost weight in only two weeks after ending the fast.

The authors note that the month provides an opportunity to start losing weight but “structured and consistent lifestyle modifications are necessary to achieve life-lasting weight loss”.

Prevent headaches

Fasting can increase your chances of experiencing headaches, according to a literature review published in the medical journal Headache. The researchers found many possible causes for this, including caffeine withdrawal, low blood sugar and dehydration.

Elliot Shevel, a migraine expert who heads up The Headache Clinic – a private group of specialised facilities in South Africa – says there are ways to prevent head pain associated with foregoing caffeine during a Ramadan fast. “Patients can often prevent headaches by reducing caffeine consumption in the weeks leading up to their fast.” He says another strategy to prevent caffeine withdrawal would be to have one very strong cup of coffee before the start of the fast each day.

Quit smoking

Ramadan has been used by a number of public health authorities to encourage smokers to quit the habit as they are forced to abstain from tobacco each day of the holy month. Regular smokers will experience withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, headaches, nausea and fatigue, according to an article in the journal Addiction. The article explains, if smokers continue to use tobacco in the evening hours, Ramadan period will likely be an uncomfortable experience.

But if they maintain their abstinence day and night, withdrawal symptoms will subside in time. They say “the prohibition against smoking during the day and the absence of other smoking could assist the quit attempt”, making the holy month a good catalyst for nicotine addicts wanting to stop the habit. It might be a good time to kick other bad habits as well. (Source: The Daily Star)

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