Tackling Fasting-related Health Problems

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Studies have shown that fasting has enormous benefits for our body, mind and spirit. From losing weight to stopping smoking habit, fasting can be an effective tool to achieve optimum wellbeing. I have developed the habit of fasting at least once in a week throughout the year.

The Ramadan period provides an opportunity for people who are fasting to rejuvenate, reenergise and revamp their health. However, despite the benefits of fasting to our overall health, it can sometimes predispose people to certain health challenges.

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Pharm. Sesan Kareem

Below are some of the challenges and ways to tackle them.

  1. Headache. During Ramadan, especially the first week, a myriad of those who are fasting can be prone to headache due to the body adapting to the pattern of fasting, dehydration, change in sleeping and working patterns, as well as stress. The way forward is to be super-hydrated during non-fasting period of the day. You should endeavour to take adequate water to compensate for dehydration during the non-fasting period. It is also necessary to avoid strenuous activities during fasting.

If you still have persistent headache despite drinking adequate water, analgesics may be required. In severe cases, fasting should be terminated to allow for required treatment.

  1. Indigestion. Indigestion is a common experience during Ramadan for many people who are fasting due to intake of high calorie meals (carbohydrates and fat) during the eating period early in the morning and sometimes at evening after breaking the fast. This may occur due to disruption in usual sleeping pattern.

To avoid indigestion, healthy food should be eaten always; avoid too much spice and fats in your food. Small regular meals during non-fasting hours should be encouraged. If necessary, Antacid, proton-pump inhibitor like omepazole and H2 antagonist like ranitidine can be used.

  1. Asthma: Asthma patients are allowed to use their inhaled medications during the fasting period. It is also important for asthma patients to be sincere with themselves as to whether they can fast or not. Those who have severe asthma need oral medications to control their breathing and should avoid fasting. For patients who can still fast, it is important to use long acting beta-2-agonist like Advair during the non-fasting period of the day.
  2. Constipation: Due to dehydration and change in diet pattern, constipation is one of the health problems people who are fasting often complain about. To avoid constipation, adequate water, not just fluid (tea, coffee or soft drink) should be consumed. Food rich in high fibre like bran cereal is recommended.

Fruits and vegetables having high water content like watermelon and cucumber, should be consumed. If required, laxatives like methycellulose and isphagula husk can be used to relieve the condition.

  1. Diabetes: Due to the need for a stable blood glucose level for diabetes control, diabetic patients must be careful during fasting to avoid hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia. Most patients with insulin-dependent diabetes are advised to stay away from fasting.

However, Ramadan can be used as a vehicle to control diabetes with the assistance of a dietician. High fibre and low glycaemic index foods are encouraged. For many patients with diet-controlled diabetes, where weight loss is advised, fasting may have a beneficial effect on their health.

  1. Reumatoids: Dehydration and extra physical effort during prayers can cause symptoms of pains and aches to people, especially the elderly, during Ramadan. To avoid pains, moderation in non-compulsory prayers is important, proper hydration during non-fasting hours and light exercise may be useful. If required, analgesic should be used during meal at sunrise and sunset.
  2. Cardiovascular diseases: Studies have shown that fasting improves cardiovascular health. It improves lipid profile, weight loss, proper circulation of blood, heart strength, as well as the overall wellbeing of the heart and the cardiovascular system. However, care should be taken by cardiovascular patients to continue taking usual medications. Of course, the timing of the medications should be adjusted where possible to accommodate the fasting hours.

ACTION PLAN: Be conscious of what you feed your mouth. Take more of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains. Avoid processed food. Eat moderately.

AFFIRMATION: I eat my food like medicine, not poison. I am blessed and highly favoured.

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