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Ramadan Kareem

August 30, 2008

Ramadan is due to start in a couple of days. It is typical during this month to hear many health claims related to the benefits of the fast. Clearly, the purpose of the ritual is not health related, but spiritual. Despite this, many seek to assert the supposed health related aspects as an important reason to fast.

In 2003, the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a very interesting review article. The article, authored by Leiper, Molla and Molla, summarized the previous medical research on the health effects of fasting during the month of Ramadan.

The major findings are summarized in the abstract:

“The majority of the studies have found significant metabolic changes, but few health problems arising from the fast. A reduction in drug compliance was an inherent negative aspect of the fast. Common findings of the studies reviewed were increased irritability and incidences of headaches with sleep deprivation and lassitude prevalent. A small body mass loss is a frequent, but not universal, outcome of Ramadan. During the daylight hours of Ramadan fasting, practising [sic] Muslims are undoubtedly dehydrating, but it is not clear whether they are chronically hypohydrated during the month of Ramadan. No detrimental effects on health have as yet been directly attributed to negative water balance at the levels that may be produced during Ramadan.”

Deeper into the paper, other concerns are raised. Cognitive function slowdown leads to statistically significant rises in accidents during the month (I could have told them that, driving in Jordan in Ramadan), heat stress, headaches resulting from dehydration and poor fetal development in late pregnancy mothers. Ancillary social behavior (i.e. changing sleep patterns) may contribute to some problems seen in Ramadan (irritability, lassitude and headaches).

Some useful health tips can be found in this booklet prepared by the UK department of health. Similar advice is given here on the BBC website. Most important is the quality and quantity of food intake at the break of the fast. Ensuring that you get enough sleep is also important.

Happy Ramadan!

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