Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims around the world, during which they observe fast from dawn to dusk. It is a time of spiritual reflection, increased prayers and devotion to the God, and giving charity to the needy. However, for those who have health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, fasting can be challenging and also potentially dangerous. (1) In this article, we will discuss whether it is safe for people with diabetes and high blood pressure to fast during Ramadan.
What Happens To Your Body When You Fast?
Fasting in Ramadan comprises of going without any food and water for an average of 8 to 9 hours. When in a fasting state, the body derives energy from glucose and the stored fat in the body.(2) The glucose reserves in the liver are used first, after which the body is in a state known as “gluconeogenesis”.(2) When this gets depleted, then the body starts to generate glucose using the fat stores.
Fasting has many health benefits, such as detoxification of the body, reduced levels of cholesterol, weight loss and overall improvement in health.(3, 4, 5, 9) However, when having metabolic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, then extra precautions need to be taken to fast successfully in a healthy manner in the holy month of Ramadan.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that affects how your body processes blood sugar (glucose).(6) Glucose is the main source of energy for your body’s cells, and insulin is the hormone that regulates glucose in your bloodstream. People with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or their body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, resulting in high levels of glucose in the blood.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition in which the force of blood against the walls of your arteries is too high.(7) This can cause damage to your arteries, heart and other organs over time.
Ramadan Fasting and Diabetes
For people with diabetes, fasting during Ramadan can be challenging. It can affect blood glucose levels, which can lead to complications, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Hypoglycemia can cause symptoms, such as dizziness, confusion, sweating and headaches; while hyperglycemia can lead to long-term complications, such as nerve damage, kidney damage and blindness.(6)
Before deciding to fast, people with diabetes should consult their doctor or healthcare provider to determine whether it is safe for them to fast. If the blood sugar levels are in good control, then it is safe to fast.(8, 9) The doctor may recommend adjustments to medications or insulin doses and may also suggest monitoring blood glucose levels more frequently during the fast in Ramadan. These adjustments will allow people suffering from diabetes to fast in a safe manner in this holy month. If the blood sugar is not well controlled even with medications, then there is a risk for complications in which case you cannot fast.
People with diabetes should also take precautions during the pre-dawn and evening meal, i.e. when breaking the fast. It is important to consume foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, which can help regulate blood glucose levels. They should also avoid consuming sugary or processed foods, which can cause blood sugar to spike.
Diabetics during fasting in Ramadan should focus on eating lot of grains for the fiber content, which helps in regulating blood sugar levels. Protein intake also should be high, as it helps in converting to starch instead of sugar. When fasting in Ramadan with diabetes, it is important to have 2 to 3 servings of fresh fruit, moderate dairy and lots of vegetables. Fruit juice should be avoided. Fatty foods and sugary drinks should be avoided as it will cause spike in sugar levels. It is also important to drink a minimum of 2 liters of water a day in order to stay hydrated between the iftar time and suhoor times, which are the non-fasting hours in Ramadan.
Ramadan Fasting and High Blood Pressure
For people with high blood pressure, fasting can also be challenging. It can lead to dehydration, which can cause a drop in blood pressure and can lead to symptoms, such as dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting.
People with high blood pressure should consult their doctor or healthcare provider before deciding to fast. The doctor may recommend adjustments to medications or dosages to help manage blood pressure during the fast. They may also recommend increasing fluid intake during non-fasting hours to prevent dehydration.
In addition to medication adjustments, people with high blood pressure should also follow a healthy diet during Ramadan. They should consume foods that are low in salt and high in potassium, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They should also avoid consuming processed and high-fat foods, which can increase blood pressure. Caffeinated and sugary drinks should also be avoided as they cause dehydration. Lots of water should be consumed, around 2 to 3 liters, by people suffering from hypertension and who want to fast in Ramadan. When fasting, always be on the lookout for symptoms of hypertension, such as dizziness and headaches. Cut down on smoking in Ramadan to allow yourself to fast safely while keeping your blood pressure under control.
All these precautions when taken during fasting in Ramadan can help you in successfully completing the fast even when suffering from health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. (9, 10)
In conclusion, people with diabetes and high blood pressure can fast during Ramadan, but they should do so only after consulting their doctor or healthcare provider. They may need to adjust their medication or insulin doses, monitor their blood glucose levels more frequently, and follow a healthy diet during non-fasting hours. By taking these precautions, people with diabetes and high blood pressure can observe the holy month of Ramadan safely and in good health and moreover the fasting can yield benefits for their health condition if done in the proper manner under their doctor’s guidance. (9, 10)
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