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The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is observed as Ramadan or Ramzan. It is observed as a fast to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. It lasts for 29-31 days, depending on the sightings of the crescent moon.
Ramadan is considered as a way to cleanse the body and soul and also as a way to practice restraint. This fast is considered an obligatory fast, except for those suffering from an illness, those who are pregnant, are menstruating, have diabetes or are chronically ill.
The fast is observed from dawn to dusk. The meal consumed before dawn is called Suhoor or Sehri and the meal after sunset is called Iftar.
What Does Fasting Do To Your Body?
When you fast, after a couple of hours, the body starts to use the glycogen that is stored in the body to provide energy. After a day or two, it enters a phase of Glycogenolysis, which means it utilizes the glycogen present in the liver to supply energy. This marks Phase 1 of Fasting.
Once the glycogen supply is used up, the body starts breaking down the fat to supply energy entering into a phase called Ketosis. This also means the body starts using less protein. This marks Phase 2 of Fasting.
Thus, you start losing the fat that is present in your body. Fasting can be a great detoxification method if not overdone.
How Does Ramadan Affect Diabetic Patients?
Individuals with diabetes are exempt from fasting, according to the Quran, but for personal satisfaction, some people go ahead anyway, without realizing the various risks they are putting themselves into.
The three major risks of Ramadan fasting include
1. Hypoglycaemia - low blood sugar levels: This is most probable in patients consuming medicines for diabetes. It's best to refrain from excessive physical activity during the fasting period.
2. Hyperglycaemia - high blood sugar levels: This is probable if you overeat a meal due to the hunger when the fast is broken. Evening meals in many houses are considered a massive celebration, which sometimes involves overindulgence in food. Thus, consuming moderate quantities of food is advised.
3. Dehydration: This becomes a big problem for all who fast and are out all day. The summer seems to worsen this situation. More fluids with less sugar and caffeine are encouraged.
These risks are higher for patients suffering from diabetes. This is because of the fluctuating blood sugar levels and the tablets or insulin they consume. It is definitely not advisable to stop medications for diabetes for the fear of having hypoglycaemia.
The only tweak that should be made is the timings at which the medicines are consumed. Because not taking the medications also puts you at a risk of hyperglycaemia after large pre-dawn or post-sunset meals.
How Can The Risks Be Avoided?
The key to lessen the fluctuations of blood sugars is to consume a Suhoor meal that has starchy carbohydrates, proteins and fats, so that they are broken down slowly by the body and keep you full to the maximum time possible.
Whole grains, yogurt, lentils, beans, pulses, whole wheat rotis, egg dishes, etc. are some examples for a long-lasting, blood-sugar-controlling Suhoor meals. The Iftar meals are also as important. The main key is NOT to overeat.
The traditional way to break the fast is to consume dates with water. So, overeating those dates is also a no-no. If you're consuming juices, opt for smaller quantities. Consuming lean meats is advisable to reduce the saturated fat content in the body. High salted foods are also a risk, so it's best to limit salt intake. Ghee, butter or fried foods should also be limited or avoided altogether.
What are the main things to remember if you're diabetic and are fasting for Ramadan?
• Consult your doctor before you decide to fast to understand the state your body will get into.
• If you still want to fast, understand the risks completely by reading or talking to people.
• Plan your meals and the type of meals for each day, and incorporate foods that will keep you full for longer.
• Alter timings for your medications to avoid hypoglycaemia.
• Regularly check your blood sugar levels to avoid any unseen complications.
• Keep yourself hydrated and avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks.
• When breaking a fat, avoid large quantities of food.
Not all bodies are same and not all diabetics get affected the same way. Some of them can fast without any risks to themselves. But just because you know someone with diabetes, who has been successful at fasting, it does not mean you can assume the same for yourself.
There is also not enough literature available to understand what this type of fasting can do to diabetic patients. So, if you see fatal signs during your fasting period, it is best to stop. There are other ways of showing your respect for religion and tradition too.