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How to stay healthy while fasting

Photo: Rod Waddington/Flickr CC 2.0/

With the Muslim observance of Ramadan beginning this Saturday, Health Talk thought it’d be a great time to address best practices for staying safe and healthy during periods of fasting.

For health tips to follow during the next month’s sunup to sundown abstinence from food, Health Talk turned to Community-University Health Care Center medical director Roli Dwivedi, M.D. Not only does Dwivedi educate fellow health care professionals in care modifications for Ramadan, she also sees Ramadan-observing patients in clinic.

Here’s what Dwivedi had to say:

Health Talk: What are the benefits of fasting?
Dwivedi: This month-long fast has emotional, spiritual and medical benefits. It can give you the opportunity to get rid of bad habits and improve overall health. You can feel more spiritually connected and strong, and you can also learn to give things up for a short time. Then you can try to do them longer; maybe you can quit smoking and drinking alcohol.

Health Talk: Is fasting safe for everyone?
Roli Dwivedi, M.D.Dwivedi: Fasting can be risky for some types of chronic disease – like type1 diabetes, asthma, hypertension and migraine. Migraines, for example, occur 10 percent more frequently during Ramadan. Managing other medications for conditions like depression and hypertension can also bechallenging when medicine and food aren’t being metabolized as usual. Without liquid intake happening throughout the day, ordering labs and evaluating dental health can be tricky, too.

Luckily, it’s not mandatory to fast during Ramadan if it could potentially harm your health. There are, however, other ways to participate. For patients with a chronic disease who would still like to fast, but in a healthy way, a physician can help. For example, we [physicians] strongly encourage individuals with type 1 diabetes not to fast because of serious health risks. For type 2 diabetes it can be more doable.

Health Talk: What is the most common mistake associated with fasting?
Dwivedi: What happens during the daylong fast – and since it’s the summertime, the days are long – most people break their fast by eating quite a bit of food. Between dates, samosas, pasta, goat meat, fried bread and caffeinated drinks the calories can add up. Oftentimes many carbohydrates are consumed at night and with busy schedules made even busier by late-night prayer, people forget to brush their teeth. We see a lot of dental aches and bad odor. A lack of sleep is also problematic. So, in short, we see a lot of things that could be done better.

Photo: Greg Riegler/Flickr CC 2.0/

Health Talk: So how can someone stay healthy during a fast?
Dwivedi: When your day becomes night and your night becomes day, be extra mindful of your health. I advise patients:

  1. Don’t forget to brush your teeth at night.
  2. Drink lots of water.
  3. Take naps if possible. You need sleep!
  4. Don’t break your fast with a lot of carbohydrates.
  5. Try to eat normal-sized meals. For example, you can eat one samosa instead of two.
  6. Eat early in the morning in addition to eating at night. This helps manage overeating and better controls things like diabetes.
  7. Avoid a lot of caffeine intake, which can lead to dehydration and headaches during the day.
  8. Take your medications as needed. If you are on medications, breaking the fast with food and medication together is very important.
  9. It’s okay to break the fast if your health is in danger. It’s okay to eat when blood sugar is dangerously low, for example, because your life is more important.

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