Assalamu‘alaikum SS Dato' Mufti. Is fasting good for our health?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
Fasting in the month of Ramadhan is an obligation for every Muslim who fulfills the obligated conditions to fast. This is one of the pillars of Islam. Allah SWT states:
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُون
"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous,"
Surah al-Baqarah (183)
The Prophet PBUH said:
بُنِيَ الإسْلَامُ علَى خَمْسٍ: شَهَادَةِ أنْ لا إلَهَ إلَّا اللَّهُ وأنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسولُ اللَّهِ، وإقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ، وإيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ، والحَجِّ، وصَوْمِ رَمَضَانَ
"(The superstructure of) al-Islam is raised on five (pillars), testifying (the fact) that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is His bondsman and messenger, and the establishment of prayer, payment of Zakat, Pilgrimage to the House (Ka'ba) and the fast of Ramadan."
Sahih al-Bukhari (87) and Sahih Muslim (17)
Fasting and Health
Fasting is often related to the aspect of health. The reason is, fasting is abstaining oneself from eating and drinking from sunrise until the sun sets. This is a different routine for most Muslims in months other than Ramadhan.
Some of us argue that fasting has great health benefits according to the following hadith:
"Fast, surely you will be healthy,"
We have explained regarding the status of the above hadith in our previous article titled: IRSYAD FATWA SERIES RAMADHAN EDITION 272: THE STATUS OF THE HADITH "FAST, SURELY YOU WILL BE HEALTHY" . The conclusion from the discussion is that all the narrations from the companions of the Prophet PBUH cannot be backed up to be from the Prophet PBUH. However, this does not mean (matan or text of the hadith) is also invalid (sahih). The reason is, through the field of science and medicine prove that fasting has a lot of health benefits.
In 1994, from 19-22 January the First International Congress on "Health and Ramadhan" was held in Casablanca, Morocco. Medical experts from around the world presented approximately 50 research papers. All the research presented to prove that fasting in the month of Ramadhan does not have any harmful effects. Consequently, it has great health benefits in the prevention and treatment of sickness in humans.
Here, we include several medical and health benefits of fasting proven scientifically through research:
- Help in controlling the blood sugar level in blood . Numerous studies show that fasting helps in controlling the blood sugar level, especially for those who are at the risk of diabetes. Fasting decreases insulin resistance, thereby allowing glucose in the blood circulatory system to be transported to the cells of the body efficiently. Thus, the blood sugar level is stabilized and the risks of diabetes are reduced. Refer the research papers: "Effects of intermittent fasting on health markers in those with type 2 diabetes: A pilot study" dan "Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings".
Fasting also decreases the risk of gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnant women). The research shows that fasting can reduce the risk of diabetes for pregnant mothers in their second trimester during pregnancy. Refer the research: "Perspectives and pregnancy outcomes of maternal Ramadan fasting in the second trimester of pregnancy".
- Improve cardiac health, controlling blood pressure, triacylglycerol and cholesterol level . There is a lot of research proving the benefits of fasting on cardiac health. Research was done on obese adult individuals, where they have to undergo fasting for three weeks under the supervision of medical experts. The results showed a decrease in blood pressure, triacylglycerol and cholesterol level rapidly. Refer the research: "The effects of three-week fasting diet on blood pressure, lipid profile and glucoregulation in extremely obese patients", "Usefulness of Routine Periodic Fasting to Lower Risk of Coronary Artery Disease among Patients Undergoing Coronary Angiography" and "Regular Fasting May Improve CVD Risk".
- Reduce inflammation. Research has shown that inflammation is a cause for chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. Refer to the research: "The inflammation theory of disease".
Several kinds of research reported that fasting helps decrease the level of inflammation, thus, it helps improve health. Refer the research: "Intermittent fasting during Ramadan attenuates proinflammatory cytokines and immune cells in healthy subjects" and "Interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and biochemical parameters during prolonged intermittent fasting".
- Help in weight loss by decreasing calorie intake and increase metabolism . Theoretically, abstaining oneself from eating and drinking while fasting decreases the total calorie intake on the condition that he does not take excessive food while eating sahur or breaking his fast or eat high-calorie food. Naturally, decreasing the total calorie intake will help in weight loss.
There is research that reported fasting during the day for 12 to 24 weeks can decrease up to 9% of body weight. In another research, fasting for 3 to 12 weeks is an effective method to lose 8% to 16% fat mass. Refer the research: "Effects of intermittent fasting on body composition and clinical health markers in humans" dan "Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss?"
- Increase the recovery rate. Fasting can also improve the process of human body recovery. When there is an absence of food in the stomach, the body will focus on other activity and body functions; such as metabolic activity and body defense system, other than to digestion, where it is unnecessary since the person is fasting.
Research has shown that the human immune and defense system in the intestine of a patient improves compared to when the patient is not fasting. Refer the research: "Progression of intestinal secretory immunoglobulin A and the condition of the patients during naturopathic therapy and fasting therapy"
- Improve brain function and health. Autophagy in the brain is an intracellular degradation system responsible for removing damaged proteins and organelles in specific neurons of the brain. If toxic protein aggregates and dysfunctional organelles accumulate in specific types of neurons, it will lead to neuronal dysfunction as observed in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Fasting upregulates the pathway of autophagy in the brain, thus, improving brain function and health. Refer to the research: "Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy"
- Secretion of the anti-aging hormone. When fasting, there is an increased production of growth hormone. This will promote the production of anti-aging and growth hormone. Refer the research: "Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man"
Although the status of the hadith that states the health benefit of fasting is weak and it is criticized by scholars, scientific evidence proves that there are health benefits of fasting.
We would like to emphasize that the main purpose of fasting is a form of obedience of a slave of Allah SWT to attain taqwa. As for the benefit of fasting, it is a bonus and wisdom from Allah for His slaves who obey Him.
May Allah SWT gives us strength in completing our fast the best that we could. Amin.