Exploring the Eight Medical Benefits of Fasting

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We know fasting has been prescribed for spiritual benefits, namely, purification of the soul and to promote piety.

In this respect, verse 183 of Surah Baqarah states:

O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for the people before you so that you may become pious.”‏

Fasting carries significant historical and spiritual importance in Islam, originating from when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the 7th century. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam. Ramadan stands out as the most significant fasting period for Muslims worldwide. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, during which Muslims worldwide abstain from food, drink, smoking, and other physical needs from dawn until sunset. With over 1.8 billion Muslims participating annually, Ramadan holds an esteemed place as one of the largest religious observances globally.

Additionally. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in Bukhari: 

Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter).”

A fast is a period of time during which a person refrains from consuming food, drink, or certain other activities. The pre-fast meal, known as suhoor, is typically consumed before dawn, while the fast is broken with the evening meal, called iftar.  The duration of the fast varies depending on geographic location and the time of year, with some regions experiencing longer daylight hours than others. In some regions, fasting may last for approximately 12 to 16 hours, while in others with longer daylight hours, fasting periods may extend to 18 hours or more. 

Apart from the well-known spiritual benefits, fasting has medical advantages. 

Imam Ali alluded to this when he said:

The purification of the body is (in) striving and fasting…Fasting is one of the two means of good health.”

(Ghurar Al Hikam)

Research suggests that intermittent fasting, such as the fasting observed during Ramadan, can lead to various physiological changes in the body. 

Here are eight ways:

Fasting Fuels Weight Loss Through Fat Breakdown

During fasting, a person’s body lacks immediate access to energy from food. To compensate, it initiates a process called lipolysis, the breakdown of stored fat into fatty acids and glycerol. These fatty acids can be converted into ketones, serving as an alternative energy source, especially for the brain and muscles. Consequently, as the body relies less on glucose from food and more on fat for fuel, it promotes weight loss.

Cellular Renewal through Fasting

During fasting, our bodies undergo a shortage of nutrients, prompting cellular responses that activate specific pathways like mTOR and AMPK, which regulate autophagy. “Autophagy,” originating from the Greek term meaning “self-eating,” is a cellular process crucial for self-renewal and repair. These pathways signal our cells to initiate autophagy, facilitating the breakdown and recycling of damaged organelles, proteins, and other cellular components for energy. This natural process holds significant implications for various health conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, metabolic disorders, and infectious diseases. Ongoing research into autophagy continues to reveal its intricate role in maintaining health and combating disease, offering promising avenues for therapeutic interventions.

Fasting’s Impact on Cardiovascular Wellness

Fasting isn’t just about skipping meals; it’s linked to better heart health and lower risk factors for heart disease. Research suggests that by giving your body a break from eating, you could see improvements in blood pressure, bad cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and inflammation markers —all these play a role in cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, fasting helps clear out artery-clogging plaque and boosts the function of your blood vessels.

Fasting’s Impact on Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Regulation

Fasting improves insulin sensitivity, helping cells respond better to insulin and regulate blood sugar levels. During fasting, insulin levels drop, making cells more receptive to insulin. This enhanced sensitivity helps cells absorb glucose from the blood more efficiently, keeping blood sugar levels stable. Fasting regulates blood sugar levels by encouraging cells to use glucose for energy. Without food, the body uses stored glycogen and fat, gradually lowering blood sugar levels. Fasting also triggers gluconeogenesis, where the liver produces glucose from non-carbohydrate sources to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This balanced regulation may prevent high blood sugar levels and enhance metabolic health. For people with diabetes, fasting is a helpful way to manage blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance. Intermittent fasting improves glycemic control, lowers insulin needs, and supports weight loss in those with type 2 diabetes. By promoting weight loss, enhancing insulin sensitivity, and regulating blood sugar levels, fasting can help people with diabetes rely less on medication and improve long-term health.

Fasting’s Impact on Hormonal Regulation 

During fasting, our body adjusts the levels of certain hormones like insulin, cortisol, and adiponectin. These hormones have special properties that can reduce inflammation in our body. By controlling the levels of these hormones, fasting helps keep our immune system in balance and lowers inflammation.

Fasting’s Impact on Gut Health

During fasting, the mix of microorganisms in our gut, known as the gut microbiota, changes. When there’s an imbalance in these bacteria, called dysbiosis, it can lead to inflammation and different diseases. Fasting might help restore a healthier balance of gut bacteria, which lowers inflammation in our body.

Fasting’s Impact on Brain Health

Fasting triggers the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein crucial for neuron growth and maintenance. Increased BDNF levels are linked to better cognitive function and defense against neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Fasting can boost cognitive abilities and mental clarity by promoting neural plasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganize in response to new experiences and learning.

During fasting, the brain switches to using ketones as an alternative energy source when glucose levels are low. This metabolic shift may improve brain energy metabolism and cognitive function.

Psychological Benefits of Fasting

Intermittent fasting may offer various psychological benefits, including improved focus, increased mental clarity, and potentially enhanced mood regulation. Additionally, it can foster discipline, mindfulness and a deeper appreciation for food and community. Many individuals report feeling a sense of mental clarity and focus during the fasting period.


Overall, fasting offers numerous spiritual and medical benefits. However, practicing fasting safely and ensuring adequate hydration and nutrition during non-fasting periods is essential to support overall health and well-being. Patients should consult with their healthcare professionals before fasting. Patients, travelers, or pregnant women don’t need to fast in the holy month of Ramadan. Indeed, Allah (SWT) is very kind to His servants.

He states in verse 185 of Surah Baqarah:

The month of Ramadan (is the month) in which the Qur’an has been sent down as guidance for mankind containing clear signs which lead (to the straight road) and distinguishing (the truth from falsehood). Therefore, he who witnesses this month must fast it, and he who is ill or on a journey should complete the count by (fasting on equal number of) other days. Allah desires ease for you and does not desire hardship for you so that you complete the prescribed number of fasting days, and that you glorify Him for the guidance which He has blessed you with, and that you may become grateful.‏”