Healthy Living

Health benefits of fasting

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Posted  Sunday, July 13  2014 at  01:00

In Summary

Fasting isn’t merely a spiritual activity for connecting with God but it has health gains to it too as Carol Nambowa finds out.

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With the latest University of Southern California (USC) research results in their journal showing that fasting leads to an immunity boost, more people are likely to join Muslims this Ramadan to share in this health benefit.

According to different religions, there is a variety of ways one can fast. These can be categorised as: dry fasting, liquid fasting and partial fasting. Dry fasting involves foregoing any kind of food stuff and drink for a given period of time. On the other hand, liquid fasting unlike dry fasting consists of one foregoing food but not liquid substances like water or juice.

Partial fasting includes selectively foregoing certain foods but not all foods. The kind of fasting Muslims have during the month of Ramadan is referred to as dry fasting.

Immunity boost
Research conducted at the USC, showed that fasting in fact triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system. Dr Umarashid Guloba, a general practitioner at AAR Health Services explains the health wonders of dry fasting. “When fasting, the body also breaks down damaged white blood cells triggering the stem cells to produce new white blood cells which boost one’s immunity,” he says.

Weight loss
When one fasts for 12 hours like Muslims do, the body has a store of glucose it uses. At first, it uses energy stored in the liver and muscles. “These stores are usually small and get depleted quickly. Therefore, the second option the body uses for energy is to break down fat,” says Dr Guloba.
As fat is broken down for energy, the end result of this process is weight loss.

There are a number of health benefits of losing weight as well as improving mobility, control of high blood pressure and diabetes. Weight loss also reduces fat content in the body. In men it is usually on the tummy and at the rear for women. Dr Guloba adds, “Since weight usually affects one’s joints, shedding some of it also relieves the joints especially the knee and ankle joints.”
In addition, when one fasts, their cholesterol levels are remarkably reduced in turn reducing risk of heart problems.

Detoxification
Since the body breaks down fats. “When one fasts, fats which contain some toxins are broken down. The toxins are released into the blood stream and later eliminated. Fasting also gives the body time to do its own maintenance,” Dr Guloba explains. Hence fasting is a detoxification and cleansing mechanism.

Feel good
Fasting stimulates release of endorphins. These are chemicals that make one feel healthy and good. Between five to eight hours of fasting, the body releases these chemicals improving one’s mood and well-being.
However, it is not advisable for one to fast for very long hours because once the fats are depleted, the body turns to the muscles which it breaks down for energy. This shrinks the body. Therefore, it is not advisable for one to fast for more than 24 hours entering a state of starvation.

Why it might not work
At times when fasting, people end up gaining weight in place of shedding it. The mistake most people make is eating too much food, more than the body needs hence the body stores the extra food as fat. Dr Guloba advises when breaking the fast, one should eat just enough.
“Have a normal supper with a high percentage of carbohydrates because you need the energy giving foods. Have some fat and fruit as well,” he suggests.

How soon does it work?
Dr Guloba says it is important to note that how soon fasting benefits one depends on what one is eating when breaking the fast. “If it is normal food, by the end of 10 or 30 days, you’ve lost weight,” he concludes.