- Ramadan fasting is a spiritual exercise that may pose some health risks to certain Muslims who undertake it.
- Muslims who are susceptible to adverse health effects from Ramadan fasting mostly include those with underlying chronic health conditions, the extremely young and old, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Some of the Ramadan fasting risks include dehydration, hypoglycemia, poor drug compliance, etc.
- Most of these risks are largely avoidable and can be prevented with certain lifestyle modifications.
The most important month in Islam is the month of Ramadan. This is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, dedicated towards spiritual reflection with an increased focus on devotion and worship. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a holy fast from sunrise to sunset. They abstain from taking any form of food or drinks. They also forgo sexual relations and sinful speech and behaviour during this period. Muslims are only permitted to eat at night after sunset, and before dawn.
Ramadan Fasting Risks
Ramadan fasting is generally considered to be safe for healthy Muslims. However, it may present some adverse health effects in certain individuals. Some of these individuals include those who have chronic medical illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, and others. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as the elderly and pre-pubertal individuals, are also at risk for adverse health effects of Ramadan.
Ramadan Fasting and Dehydration
The most common health risk to individuals observing the Ramadan fast is dehydration. Dehydration occurs when there is a reduction in the intake of water. This is compared to the use or loss of water/bodily fluids by the body.
Fasting Muslims are at risk for dehydration as a result of the absence of adequate water intake during fasting periods. Some of the factors that predispose them to dehydration include:
- lack of adequate water intake during Suhoor and Iftar,
- excessive physical exertion and exercise,
- high temperatures in some regions during fasting hours,
- individuals taking diuretics, and
- diabetic individuals.
The degree and severity of dehydration could result in several symptoms such as;
- increased feeling of thirst,
- a general feeling of unwellness,
- dry mouth, lips, and eyes,
- muscle cramps,
- lethargy, and
- fainting spells.
This study showed increased injury to the kidneys in chronic kidney disease patients who take part in Ramadan fasting. Prolonged severe dehydration could also lead to some potentially fatal complications such as altered mental status, renal failure, hypovolemic shock, and in some cases, death.
Muslims partaking in the Ramadan fast are advised to take adequate amounts of water during the non-fasting periods. Drinks and beverages containing caffeine should be avoided as caffeine has been shown to stimulate faster water loss.
Ramadan Fasting and Sleep
Another common health risk posed to individuals during Ramadan fasting is a change in sleep patterns. Muslims observing the Ramadan fast often have to wake up earlier than usual in order to take part in Suhoor and often sleep later than usual after breaking their fast for the day during Iftar.
This results in a reduction in the quantity and quality of sleep they get during the Ramadan fasting period. This reduction in sleep leads to the following adverse effects:
- an increase in daytime sleepiness,
- a reduction in concentration during the day,
- easy fatigability, and
- mood changes.
These effects lead to individuals becoming more irritable during the day. Maintaining good sleep hygiene during the non-fasting periods is important in preventing the effects of Ramadan fasting on sleep patterns.
Ramadan Fasting and Drug Compliance
Poor drug compliance is often seen in Muslims who have health problems and take part in Ramadan fasting which presents a major health risk to them. During the period of Ramadan fasting, Muslims are restricted from intake of any form of fluid and food during the fasting hours.
This results in individuals being unable to use their medications during the fasting hours, and subsequently missing doses thereby leading to poor drug compliance. Muslims who have to be on medications during Ramadan are often advised to visit their doctors to discuss possible changes to their drug regimen. This will ensure proper drug compliance during the Ramadan fast.
Ramadan Fasting and Hypoglycemia
A common health risk often seen in Muslims during the Ramadan period is a reduction in blood glucose levels. This occurs as a result of diet restriction as well as a restriction in the intake of food during fasting hours.
Blood glucose levels are often lowest just before sunset after which Muslims will observe Iftar. The reduction in blood glucose levels has a higher health risk in Muslims with Diabetes partaking in the Ramadan fast.
This study reported a sevenfold increase in the risk of severe hypoglycemia in Muslims with diabetes during the month of Ramadan. The reduction in blood glucose levels triggers compensatory mechanisms in healthy individuals. This prevents the occurrence of hypoglycemia. However, for people living with Diabetes, these compensatory mechanisms are often impaired and thus predispose these individuals to hypoglycemia.
Muslims living with Diabetes who wish to partake in the fast are always advised to regularly monitor their blood glucose levels and also contact their general practitioners to discuss changes in their medications.
The health risks to Muslims partaking in the Ramadan fast are largely preventable. Some of the steps that can be taken to prevent these risks include:
- adequate food and fluid intake in between fasting hours,
- proper consultation with a medical doctor for Muslims with chronic health conditions before partaking in the fast,
- adequate rest during and between fasting hours, and
- avoidance of high-intensity exercises during fasting hours.
Ramadan fast if done with proper guidance, provides in addition to spiritual growth, several health benefits to Muslims. However, if the right diet and proper guidance are not taken, it can present several risks and possibly worsen the health of Muslims partaking in the fast.
- Lethargy: a state of tiredness, fatigue, or lack of energy.
- Diabetes: a chronic disease that occurs when the body cannot adequately regulate blood sugar.
- Hypoglycemia: a clinical condition where there is a reduction in blood sugar to a level that may result in a variety of symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, confusion, loss of consciousness, etc.