- A small study of Ramadan observers shows fasting for 15 hours a day — from sunrise to sunset — could increase levels of beneficial proteins in the blood.
- Fasting improves sensitivity to insulin, the study suggests, which can protect against diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other obesity-related illnesses. Earlier research has also shown Ramadan fasts may have metabolic health benefits.
- Dawn-to-sunset fasting draws some comparisons to types of intermittent fasting, which may also have health benefits, but more research is needed on both topics.
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Fasting for Ramadan is an important part of the Muslim faith, meant to promote spiritual discipline and compassion. Now, new research suggests the sunrise-to-sunset fasting cycle may also have health benefits.
In a May study published in the journal Gastroenterology, researchers found that 14 healthy adults who fasted about 15 hours a day for a 30-day period showed an increase in proteins related to insulin resistance. These proteins are important for healthy cell maintenance and the body's ability to use blood glucose effectively.
Researchers measured the level of the protein tropomyosin in blood samples taken from the volunteers before fasting, after four weeks of fasting, and one week after the fast had ended.
Results indicated significantly higher levels of three types of tropomyosin proteins related to insulin sensitivity, which determines how effectively the body can use blood glucose.
"Based on our initial research, we believe that dawn-to-sunset fasting may provide a cost-effective intervention for those struggling with obesity-related conditions," said lead study author Dr. Ayse Leyla Mindikoglu, associate professor of medicine and surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, in a May 21 press release.
Still, more research is needed to fully understand how fasting influences insulin response, Dr. Mindikoglu said. The study only included healthy volunteers and did not take into account potential variables such as age, gender, and other lifestyle factors.
"We are in the process of expanding our research to include individuals with metabolic syndrome and [non-alcoholic fatty liver disease] to determine whether results are consistent with those of the healthy individuals," Dr. Mindikoglu said in the statement.
Ramadan fasting shares some features of popular versions of intermittent fasting
The approximately 15-hour fasting window of the Ramadan fast is similar in some ways to a popular type of intermittent fasting, a trending dietary plan touted for everything from weight loss to increased mental focus.
The 16:8 style of intermittent fasting requires practitioners to limit their food intake to an 8-hour window during the day, such as from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fasting occurs during the other 16 hours of the day, although water and beverages like coffee are usually permitted.
Preliminary research suggests intermittent fasting may help with weight loss and metabolic disease prevention. One study that restricted food intake to 8 hours a day, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., for example, found that a group of obese men with prediabetes had lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity after five weeks.
Still, Ramadan-intermittent fasting comparisons are loose. Unlike most intermittent fasters, most Ramadan observers abstain from drinking any liquids, smoking, taking medications, and having sex during daylight hours. Their goals, of course, are different too.
This isn't the only study of Ramadan's potential health effects
Previous research has supported theories of Ramadan's potential benefits for metabolic health. A December 2018 study of a group of healthy men showed that fasting produced a positive reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), sometimes called "bad" cholesterol. LDL is another factor in obesity-related illnesses and too much can cause heart disease.
An earlier study also showed that fasting improved the lipid profile in healthy men, increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol while reducing LDL. This effect was recorded a month after the Ramadan fast had ended.
Dr. Mindikoglu also cites research suggesting that the Ramadan fast can reduce BMI and waistline size, despite the fact that fasting doesn't typically reduce the overall daily number of calories consumed.