Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Published on 7 Ramadhan, 1424.

The Muslim Fast and our Body
Part One
Part Two

By Dr. Suriyakhatun Osman
Medical Doctor and Homeopath


Iraqi Date Palm


My favourite phrase that I say to my patients is;
 "This is not because of the fasting, but this is because of how you break your fast!" (Ini bukan salah puasa, ini salah buka puasa).

Contents

Beginning the Fast

Gastritis

Detoxification

Supplements and Drugs while Fasting

A Scientific Experiment

Physical Activities and Sports

Ketosis

Bathing

Food Allergies

Inward Looking Time

Spices

Some Questions and Answers

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I wrote this lecture years ago after reading a book on fasting written by an American, Dr Alan Cott, the book was titled Fasting, the Ultimate diet. What I wrote was in Bahasa and, it was in the form of a presentation.  Now I m trying to rewrite it in English adding to it what I learned from my many years of experience fasting as well as treating fasting related problems in my clinic. This writer was talking not about the Muslim fast but the fasting that some people undertake, while not taking any solid food, they would take water, or some would take juices.

The Muslim fast on the other hand is a semi fast but also a complete fast. One goes without food and drink and, more that this, one goes without negative thoughts, if that is possible. The fasting one undertakes is to fast from all negative things, including negative thoughts. It is also a withdrawal from fulfilling some of our bodily needs that are related to our desires and urges. While these are not forbidden in themselves, they are to be abstained from while in the state of fasting. This includes all actions pertaining to the sex act. However it is only abstained from while observing the sun up to sundown fast and is permitted in the night-time while not fasting even in the fasting month of Ramadan.

It is not my intention to discuss the merits and demerits of fasting but it is my intention to address some of the benefits, problems and mechanics of fasting to help the individual who wants to undertake the fast. It is also not my intention to go into great technical details nor is it my intention to write a scholarly treatise with references since there is a time constraint to my writing. Having said that, most of what I am writing have been verified and data on it can be easily found on the internet and in books.

Beginning the Fast:

Y

The fast begins with a pre fast preparation. The pre fast preparation for the average Muslim faster is to get up before dawn to eat a meal! Of course those who are afraid of going hungry will eat a big meal if they have the appetite to eat at this hour! But, in actual fact, the bigger the meal you eat, the faster you'll get hungry. It would therefore be wise to eat a small meal that is packed with the nutrients one needs for the day. A complex carbohydrate meal with a lot of essential fatty acids and a helping of vegetable protein would be good. If you take a cup of muesli with yoghurt and honey adding some flax seeds, it would make a good pre fast meal. A liquid meal made from a complete food powder may be a good choice for those who have no time to waste preparing a meal, a light wholesome meal may be another option.  Milk with dates is also a good pre fast meal, adding a whole food vitamin and mineral preparation would not be a bad idea. If you are allergic to milk, substitute the milk with soya milk. Taking refined carbohydrates like white flour and white rice is not such a good idea because these foods digest pretty fast and you get very hungry very soon, as well as your blood sugar will rise very fast and then drop very fast. A complex carbohydrate on the other hand, will digest much more slowly keeping the blood sugar steady.

Examples of complex carbohydrates are brown rice, whole meal cereals including wheat and all vegetables and fruits except for the very starchy ones which have much less fibre and a lot of carbohydrates. Fruits are very good for breaking the fast because they have a lot of easily utilised sugars but they are not likely to cause the sudden rise and then fall of the blood sugar. It is eating simple sugars (white sugar) that sometimes make people dizzy after breaking the fast, because the blood sugar shoots up suddenly releasing insulin which then works to bring down the blood sugar again super fast as well. The fibre in the meal slows down digestion, hence the blood sugar rise is gradual when we eat complex carbohydrates.

Detoxification

Y

For those who are usually constipated while not fasting, the bad news is that it is going to get worse when fasting and it is also going to negate any beneficial detox effect of the fast! For these people, I would suggest that a few days before beginning the fast, eat light foods, avoid animal proteins, drink lots of water and take a preparation that would cleanse the bowels. Depending on the type and manner of constipation, these are the suggestions : Take a fibre preparation before bedtime with a large glass of water, ones that can be bought at a pharmacy are psyllium seed preparations or asperghula husk. You can make your own preparation using local ingredients (getah anggur, kembang semangkok, selasih). Take a tablespoonful of Lactulose (available over the counter at the Pharmacy) or if this is too mild, add two senokot tablets or granules prepared according to instructions on the pack you bought. Senokot may cause some griping pain while being a good bowel cleanser and each person has got to find their own suitable dose! Start taking more fibre with your meals but, if you have been used to eating low fibre meals, you may find that suddenly increasing fibre intake will cause bloating! Adding a suitable amount of chlorella and spirulina may help with the detox but having said that, please make sure the brands you use are from pollution free sources and, also there are some people allergic to chlorella and spirulina so please start with a small quantity, way below the recommended dose! You may want to know why I suggest a detox to begin the fast. Most Muslims do not do any kind of detox and simply plunge into the fast. Many will have been fasting for a few days in the week the previous month and this will be a detox in itself. Those who plunge into the fast may have a tough time the first week of the fast if their bodies are having a lot of waste matter that has not found its way out of the body in the normal course of its metabolism. How is this possible you may ask?

A Scientific Experiment

Y

In an experiment done in a lab, some cells from a chicken were grown in a Ringer's solution. The Ringer's solution was changed daily. The cells lived for more that 20 years. The reason the cells died finally is because the solution was not changed during a long public holiday when the lab was closed. This experiment showed that the cells survived when their metabolites were efficiently dealt with. The Ringer's solution that was contaminated with the metabolites from the cells still contained enough cell nutrients, which means that what killed the cells were their own toxic products! Our bodies have their metabolites eliminated via our stools, by being processed by the liver, and through our kidneys as urine, also through our skin as sweat and through our lungs in the vapour that comes out with our breaths. If for any reason there is an inefficient elimination due to the sluggishness of the liver or the kidneys or the skin and lungs, our body will be storing waste matter meant to be eliminated. The waste products are the metabolites from the food we eat and also from pollution that we are exposed to via breathing and our drinking water as well as food. When we are not fasting, our cells are busy processing the food we keep ingesting and this may make the cells fall back on the clearing out of the waste matter which then gets retained in the cells but when we stop eating the cells will then have the time they need to deal with the waste matter. For this reason I have always advised people to stop eating at about 6 pm and have the next meal at about 8 am, even if they do not do any fasting! In other words, it is possible to eat ourselves to death if we do not pay attention to the detox and elimination functions of our bodies.

So now we go to the actual fast itself. Basically the fast is to stop eating and drinking from sun up to sun down! The time of the fast varies from country to country and season to season and year to year. For some it may be 14 hours, for some much more and for some much less! But somehow since the Muslim calendar moves because it is a non-adjusted lunar calendar, it keeps shifting until those who have fasted in the winter will find themselves some years later fasting in the summer!

Ketosis

Y

So what actually happens during a fast? A long enough fast will result in ketosis. The body will run out of its glycogen, the constant energy supply that the body produces from foods eaten and, the body starts dipping into its reserve supply stored in the fat. The body however, no matter how fat a person is, is very reluctant to dip into the stored fat, some long ago mechanism for survival of the human I suppose and will let the blood sugar level really drop, as well as let the body metabolism slow down before it actually starts to dip into the stored energy reserves. Does a person who totally fasts for about 14-18 hours in a day go into a ketosis state? This is an individual thing and, can only be determined by doing a ketone test on the urine or the breath.

Some of the experiences of the faster come from reflex actions by the body. Do we feel hungry because the body does not have enough food? More often that not, the hunger pangs we get are reflex, because we eat at a certain time, so we regularly feel hungry even though our body may not need the food! When the blood sugar goes down, we may feel dizzy, and, we will not be able to stand the cold as much as when we are not fasting. 

Many people get a headache when they fast, even a few hours into the fast.. The headache comes on for many reasons, some of it may have to do with a gastric reflex action, and, some of it may be due to toxins that start to get released into the blood stream because of being released from the cells. The waste matter that has been trapped in the cells and in our fat cells, start to find its way into the blood because we have given the cells time to process the metabolites in the cells by not eating. The cells start to deal with the accumulated waste products and throw them back into the blood so that they can go to the liver and the kidneys, and the skin and lungs to be released from the body. This gives rise to the smelly breath, smelly sweat, pungent urine and smelly stools the faster may experience. It may also make the faster experience diarrhoea a few days into the fast and these increased toxins in the blood, on their way out, also gives rise to the lethargy, body ache and weakness, besides the headache and dizziness that the faster experiences. It sounds bad, but leaving the toxins in the cells is much worse because there they cause the cells to degenerate and age faster. A person who has done some detox before the fast will experience much less problems from these annoying symptoms besides being simply tired and hungry.

Anyone who has actually undertaken the fast will tell you they start to feel better in the second week of the fast! By this time the body's reflex actions will have adjusted to the new time table of eating, and also the accumulated waste in the cells will have had a sufficient time to have been removed, thus the overload of metabolites from the cells and the fat cells will have reduced.

Some problems however may start to become apparent during this time! What I notice is an increase in cases of renal colic and gouty arthritis, and, gastritis. I also find many cases of acute gastroenteritis, quite apart from the diarrhoea that I mentioned earlier as possibly due to a detox reaction. Most of these medical problems of the faster is not directly related to the fasting but, more because of how they break the fast each day! My favourite phrase that I say to my patients is "This is not because of the fasting, but this is because of how you break your fast!" (Ini bukan salah puasa, ini salah buka puasa)  Most people are not aware and do not think it necessary to change the way they eat after not eating for 14-18 hours! They break their fast by eating as they usually eat and if that consists of really hot chili padi and curried chicken, roast beef and a heaping plate of rice, then that is what they’ll eat when they break their fast!

The problem is that the gastrointestinal tract, having rested for an unusual length of time, and being really empty of food, is not ready to digest irritating foods in large quantities engulfed in record time! My advice would be to eat lightly and certainly cut down on the animal proteins as much as possible and substitute mixed vegetables and beans for it. This would counter the tendency for uric acid stones and deposits, the main reason for the increased incidence of gouty arthritis and renal colic during the fasting month. By the way, some beans may also be a problem for some people with a raised uric acid level to start with. Taking a lot of fruit juices would help alkaliniaze urine and this would also be a great help in preventing stones. Drinking a lot of water whenever possible throughout the night would also be a good practise. If there is a strong tendency for uric acid stones, perhaps a commercially sold alkalinizer may be a good preventive measure.

The other reason for the gastrointestinal problems besides indiscreet breaking of the fast, is eating food that has been in the refrigerator, or worse still, kept on the table for long periods of time. Asians for example would cook rice and leave it in the pot for long hours in the hot weather and not realize that germs would have been breeding in the rice. Or they would eat leftovers from the break fast meal for the pre dawn sahur again paving the road for ingesting germs! My advice here would be to cook enough for one meal, and to quickly refrigerate leftovers if they are to be eaten again and, to throw away the bacterial cultures and fungal cultures that you may discover in the refrigerator after a week of fasting and accumulating left over foods, lest a hapless member of the family raids the refrigerator at night and ends up sick!

Food Allergies

Y

There is another problem that I have come across during the fasting month and that is, many people who were allergic to certain foods had flare ups when they ingested the food during the breaking of the fast! The explanation for this is that, in actual fact the person may be very sensitive to the food, but the effect is masked when the person eats regular meals because of the other digestive functions. Abstaining from food therefore augments the sensitivity reactions. This is actually helpful because it identifies the food we are sensitive to and we can thus avoid these foods. Although we may think that we have become more allergic to these foods, in actual fact we are already very allergic to these foods, except that the allergies would manifest in less dramatic but more chronic ways. For example, if we are allergic to shrimp and usually, on non fasting days, taking shrimp makes us wake up with a runny nose the
next morning, we may find that taking shrimp for the break fast meal may cause an immediate itch in the mouth! The most sensible thing to do with food we are allergic to is to avoid these foods but I know of very many people who would rather have the allergy than go without the food! In this case, then I would suggest make sure you do not take foods you are allergic to in the break fast meal, take it later in the night.

The best thing to take for the break fast meal is bland nutritious foods and most Muslims know that the Prophet (pbuh) used to take dates and milk. The prophet (pbuh) used to have a very meagre meal for breakfast and the same for sahur, which would make the fast a ketotic one, that is the body goes into ketosis, there is a break down of fat and, there is a detoxification process that goes on, and research has shown that in this kind of fasting, it is quite possible that tumours will be resorbed and shrink, even disappear from the body. This kind of fast, eating far less than the caloric needs of the day will have a lot of added benefits but, is not to be undertaken by those who are having other serious metabolic disease except under close medical supervision and monitoring! It is also possible to cure disease related to the guts, including colitis and constipation, if one is prepared to go on a strictly bland diet, completely avoiding the foods that aggravate the conditions. This is different in different people, many people are gluten intolerant, quite a number are pretty allergic to spices and chilli although they will say they cannot do without it. Some cannot take certain vegetables and certain meats so what to avoid is quite individual! The month long fast, if undertaken with the avoidance of the foods one cannot tolerate well will improve digestion and heal many minor functional digestive problems and possibly even more serious ones.

Spices

Y

About spices, many Asian styles of cooking are very spicy. Spices have a lot of essential oils and stuff that need to be processed by the liver and by the kidneys. So, in the fasting month when water intake is nil in the daytime for 14-18 hours, it is very wise to cut down on spices or to avoid spices entirely.

continue to Part Two



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