You might be aware that the Islamic month of Ramadan has just started. Having just arrived on my travels in a Muslim country, I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject – from a Paleo perspective.
Ramadan is a month of fasting , where Muslims from all around the world start their fast at sunrise, and don’t eat or drink until sunset – for the whole month. Fasting is something I've read a lot about, and tried myself in the form of Intermittent Fasting. In the Paleo world intermittent fasting refers to the not eating part – people undertaking an intermittent fast drink water. Some people even take BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) to decrease cravings and hunger signals at the level of the brain – something that wouldn't be done in Ramadan.
As so many people fast during this time, a lot of scientific studies have been conducted – with very interesting results. Whilst intermittent fasting as part of a Paleo protocol is different to fasting during Ramadan, there is still a lot of useful learning from these studies.
A number of studies concern diabetes – and have shown during Ramadan, diabetics blood glucose levels are far more stable. A study on a group of students also demonstrated that over the month weight loss was common; more significantly in overweight participants. Studies have also shown a significant decrease in markers of inflammation during the month of Ramadan, which is speculated to decrease the risk of heart disease.
One area of Ramadan that is hard to reconcile to intermittent fasting, is diet. Many people will break their fast on Ramadan with the refined carbohydrates that someone breaking a Paleo intermittent fast would avoid. What impact does this have on the application of Ramadan studies to understanding the benefits of a Paleo intermittent fast? Another part of Ramadan which is hard to quantify is the peacefulness that surrounds the period – something which must surely have health benefits?
Whilst clearly limited, the studies conducted on Ramadan certainly seem to imply eating less frequently has many benefits. This is completely contrary to the conventional wisdom advice, which is often to snack frequently, and eat lots of small meals.
It’s going to be an interesting time being in the midst of Ramadan. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of Ramadan and intermittent fasting in general. Do you think it’s beneficial to health? Have you ever fasted?