Ramadan fast may help tackle obesity-related conditions
Study of 30-day, dawn-to-sunset fast shows promising implications for timing and duration between meals
Dawn-to-sunset fasting, as practised by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan, may provide a cost-effective intervention for those struggling with obesity-related conditions.
Research presented during the recent international Digestive Disease Week suggested that fasting from early morning to dusk for 30 days increased levels of proteins that play a crucial role in improving insulin resistance and protecting against the risks from a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
The study, which was based on Ramadan, the month during which Muslims fast, offers a potential new treatment approach for obesity-related conditions, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
“According to World Health Organisation data, obesity affects over 650 million people worldwide, placing them at risk for any number of health conditions,” said researcher Ayse Leyla Mindikoglu.
“Feeding and fasting can significantly impact how the body makes and uses proteins that are critical to decreasing insulin resistance and maintaining a healthy body weight.
“Therefore, the timing of and duration between meals could be important factors to consider for people struggling with obesity-related conditions.”
The pilot study included 14 healthy individuals who fasted (no food or drink) for about 15 hours a day from dawn to sunset for 30 days during Ramadan.
Researchers collected blood samples from the individuals before beginning the religious fast, again at the fourth week of fasting, and then one-week post-fasting.
The samples showed increased levels of proteins that have a role in maintaining healthy cells and cell repairs important to the body’s response to insulin.
“We are in the process of expanding our research to include individuals with metabolic syndrome and NAFLD to determine whether results are consistent with those of the healthy individuals,” said Mindikoglu.
“Based on our initial research, we believe that dawn-to-sunset fasting may provide a cost-effective intervention for those struggling with obesity-related conditions.”
In 2016, it was estimated that 28.3% of adults in SA were obese – the highest obesity rate among the sub-Saharan African countries.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA is circumspect about the research.
Bianca Tromp, a dietitian with the foundation, warned that the study was still in its infancy and that more research had to done “before any claims about this type of fasting as a medical treatment for insulin resistance can be made”.
Tromp said that during the study the participants did not follow any dietary recommendations when meals were consumed.
“Although fasting resulted in favourable outcomes with regards to insulin sensitivity, fasting can’t compensate for a poor diet lacking in micro- and macronutrients.
“The feasibility and sustainability of a dawn-to-sunset fasting lifestyle is questionable as it can pose many challenges.
“These challenges may include waking up very early to consume the first meal of the day, not being able to eat at social events, experience of hunger throughout the day, and feelings of isolation due to strict eating practices that limit social conduct associated with food.
“The results of this study prompt further research and exhibit the complexities of nutrition in the treatment of certain diseases.
“It is therefore important to note that not all nutritional therapies are applicable for the general public,” Tromp said.