By Dr. Ahmad Younis[1]

The month of Ramadan is drawing near. In this article I will review some of the do’s and don’ts to show the health benefits of fasting. In researching the subject at the National Medical Library, I found a listing of over five thousand articles and one hundred and seven books in various languages, of which twenty-nine were in English. This undoubtedly, is indicative of the importance of fasting to the health and welfare of human beings. The search was prompted by our Prophet’s (PBUH) hadith which I was taught as a child and grew to appreciate as a physician. He (PBUH) said: “Fast and you shall be healthy” -a statement of wisdom and fact that remains absolutely true. But I wonder if we are fasting properly, the way he (PBUH) meant us to do.

Abstaining from food and drink from dawn till sunset is not enough if we are to gain the benefits of fasting.  Ramadan is a yearly opportunity to purify not only a soul, but our body too. But do we? We fast during the day but once the sun sets, we stuff ourselves to capacity. We spend the night celebrating, and continue to eat and drink. Many will go to sleep and wake up to a sohour to eat more of the same, then resume their sleep to the late hours of the morning. Let us not forget the afternoon siesta that some people take. I am sure fasting in Ramadan was not meant to be so.

Let us put aside our spiritual expectations, our daily work, our soul-searching, our suffering, our dues to the needy, our physical vulnerability, and concentrate merely on health issues, to derive the maximum benefits of fasting. I would quote a famous Arab physician AI Harth Bin Kaldah. He said; “the stomach is the house of illness and abstention is the best therapy.” Indeed when one is ill, nature reduces one’s appetite and automatically gives his stomach a rest.

We should eat less, avoid food items that do not agree with us, such as hot spices that may cause heartburn or excess acidity, or meat that increases the amount of intestinal gas. Let us avoid fried and fatty foods, meats and cholesterol-rich items such as the egg. High cholesterol in our diet ends up subsequently in our blood and leads to hardening of our arteries, or ARTERIOSCLEROSIS. It blocks the arteries or the channels that feed the various organs in our body. This will cause heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure or kidney failure. We have two kinds of cholesterol circulating in our blood: the bad or low-density cholesterol, and the good or high-density cholesterol. We should try to lower the bad one and raise the good one. To lower the bad one, we must eat less cholesterol-rich food: such as meat, butter, oil, egg yolk, etc. To increase the good one, you have to increase your physical activity, such as walking or exercise. To drink more water will help in eliminating the bad cholesterol.

Constipation is sometimes a problem. It is important to avoid it, since the stagnation of the stools in the lower portion of the large bowel will lead to the absorption of toxic materials that could cause cancer of the bowels. A diet rich in fat may lead to cancer. In summary: less food; less fat; less sweets; more fruits and vegetable, more fiber in your diet; more water; and finally, less sleep and more physical activity. With this diet, you have given all your organs some rest and spared yourself some ills.

Allow me also to stress personal hygiene. During the fasting period, bad breath is caused by the germs at the base of the tongue, not from the stomach, and the only effective way to get rid of them is to brush the back of the tongue.

Increasing the amount of fluid, especially water, will facilitate the work of the kidneys in eliminating waste products from the circulation, will assist the liver in eliminating some of the bad cholesterol and in avoiding constipation. To eat more sweets will disturb the regulation of sugar in a diabetic. To those who have a tendency for hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, the intake of sweets will cause the absorption of sugar; its fast burning and drop of the sugar level in the blood leads to a sudden craving to eat. I have stressed eating less red meat, but you may substitute chicken or fish in moderate amounts.

A smoker who is able to abstain from smoking during his daily fast should consider giving up smoking once and for all. Smoking is a cause of debilitating respiratory diseases, as well as cancer of the lung. Smoking and chewing tobacco can also cause cancer of the mouth, throat, and larynx.

In closing, let me remind you of the importance of taking an aspirin every day and for women of child-bearing age to take a tablet of folic acid daily, to prevent specific birth defects in a future pregnancy.

If we are to benefit from our prophet’s (PBUH) perfect advice, we should follow in his footsteps, since the prophet (PBUH) spent Ramadan in fasting and devotion, not feasting and sleep.

[1] This article was published in 1997.  We ask Allah to forgive Dr. Younis and make jannah  his abode.