The Benefits of Fasting by Dr. Samar S. Shehaiber, D.C. RRT
When properly utilized, fasting is a safe and effective means of detoxifying the body of harmful substances and maximizing the body’s self healing capacities. Amazingly, the body can transition itself within the 30 days from a diseased/addicted/painful and fatigued state, to an independent and energetic state associated with healthy living.
When fasting, a person experiences recovery at a rate that is swifter than normal. He is ridding his body of toxins and excesses; allowing the body to use its own wisdom to healthfully reorganize itself from the atomic level. As the toxic load is reduced, the functioning of every cell is enhanced. In the same way that vital nerve energy is accumulated during a night's sleep, fasting builds nerve energy through rest, sleep, and detoxification. As the body starts to eliminate the toxins and metabolic by-products, your body will adjust accordingly and some symptoms may arise that include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating, joint pain, headaches, skin rashes, irritability, and depression. These symptoms will disappear after a few days once your body adjusts physiologically to the current state it’s in.
Fasting can help with overcoming addictions such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and drugs. Fasting actually reduces the often protracted withdrawal symptoms that prevent many people from becoming addiction free. Most people are surprised at how easy it is to quit smoking or drinking multiple cups of coffee a day once they start fasting!
Fasting can often be especially important in situations where drugs and surgery have been recommended. People with chronic pain, who have received extensive treatments, often will experience dramatic improvement through the use of fasting, rest, and exercise along with the recommended treatments and therapies prescribed. Hypertension cases (high blood pressure) and diabetic patients who have fasted, have achieved a dramatic decrease in their blood pressure and in their insulin levels and were able to maintain a normal levels without the use of medications in several studies. Although I discourage patients from stopping their prescribed medications, I do recommend that they consult their physicians about fasting the month of Ramadan prior to any modification to their current health regiments.
Heart and blood vessel conditions such as angina and intermittent claudications can be relieved through fasting, as well as high cholesterol levels, which often drop as low as 100 points with diligent effort. Disturbances of the gastrointestinal system, including esophagitis, gastritis, colitis, which are all inflammatory conditions of the esophagus, stomach and colon, as well as constipation, bloating, and candidiasis also respond well to fasting.
Not everyone though is a candidate for fasting, therefore consultations with your physician are important. The safest methods available should be utilized when a medical consultation or treatment is indicated. Fasting as practiced in Ramadan is different since there is no restriction on the calorie intake before and after the fasts. Malnutrition should not be an issue especially if the faster eats lots of fruits and vegetables. Also in Islam, only able bodied adults are obligated to fast. In fact, the Quran specifies those people who are exempt from fasting: Children under the age of puberty, the old and feeble, travelers, the insane, pregnant women and nursing women, women during menstruation, and the ill whose health may be adversely affected by fasting.
In Ramadan, a Muslim fasts from dawn until sunset. Breakfast is consumed before dawn and the fast is broken at dusk, traditionally by partaking of dates. One of the rules of the fast is to avoid gluttony and to eat a healthy diet. The proper etiquette of fasting includes breaking your fast initially with water and a few dates or fruit, followed by a rest period of praying. Many people think they should eat right away but that only upsets the digestive system more! A respite will reset your metabolic state and allow for a smooth digestion of food. This is in accordance to the Prophet’s Sunnah (Peace be upon him) as well. Then follow with dinner, starting with soups and salads first and then the main course.
Muslim reported that “Allah’s Messenger (S.A.W.S.) used to eat with three fingers and he licked his hand before he wiped it.” The Messenger (S.A.W.S.) told Abu Salma (R.A.) “Invoke the name of Allah, and eat with your right hand and eat what is near.” (Muslim) And he also said, “If dinner is served, and Iqama for prayer is (also), then take the dinner first.” (Bukhari).
Realize though that fasting in the month of Ramadan is not just about fasting from food and drink, but also from disobedience, avoiding sexual activity, arguing, gossiping, expressions of anger and envy. Ramadan is also to encourage self discipline and devotion to prayer, reading the holy book of the Quran in its entirety, and constant supplications to the Divine Allah. This month is about mercy and compassion so let's be leaders of those examples. May Ramadan hail on you with all its mercy and compassion and self discipline, Ameen.