Starving and dehydration can be good for you!

The NHS has advice on Ramadan fasting and health.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan can be good for your health if it’s done correctly.

When the body is starved of food, it starts to burn fat so that it can make energy. This can lead to weight loss. However, if you fast for too long your body will eventually start breaking down muscle protein for energy, which is unhealthy.

Dr Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from Oxford, says there’s a strong relationship between diet and health.

“Ramadan isn’t always thought of as being an opportunity to lose weight because the spiritual aspect is emphasised more generally than the health aspect,” he says. “However, it’s a great chance to get the physical benefits as well.”

So it’s a good thing for health, according to the NHS. It goes on to explain how the body deals with a fast, and says consolingly that you’re unlikely to starve during Ramadan because it’s only sunrise to sunset.

As the Ramadan fast only lasts from dawn till dusk, the body’s energy can be replaced in the pre-dawn and dusk meals.

This provides a gentle transition from using glucose as the main source of energy, to using fat, and prevents the breakdown of muscle for protein.

Dr Mahroof says the use of fat for energy helps weight loss. It preserves the muscles and eventually reduces your cholesterol level. In addition, weight loss results in better control of diabetes and reduces blood pressure.

“A detoxification process also occurs, because any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body,” says Dr Mahroof.

After a few days of the fast, higher levels of endorphins appear in the blood, making you more alert and giving an overall feeling of general mental wellbeing.

Oh, cool – so it actually is a healthy thing to do, and you feel better during it.

A balanced food and fluid intake is important between fasts. The kidneys are very efficient at maintaining the body’s water and salts, such as sodium and potassium. However, these can be lost through perspiration.

To prevent muscle breakdown, meals must contain enough energy food, such as carbohydrates and some fat.

“The way to approach your diet during fasting is similar to the way you should be eating outside Ramadan,” says Dr Mahroof. “You should have a balanced diet with the right proportion of carbs, fat and protein.”

And that’s it. No real warning about dehydration – just what looks like advice to avoid sweating.

That seems irresponsible to me.


  1. Pen says

    Well he’s with the NHS so his advice is for the UK.

    The first thing you might want to do is try to check the literature on dehydration to find out what the actual risks are for normally healthy people with normal activities in that climate. Right now there’s a huge amount of alt-heath stuff on the supposed benefits of drinking water constantly and it is as made up as the need for vitamins for the masses. Observationally, I can tell you that where I live, Muslims are not collapsing all over the place. Usually, it takes 2-3 days without water to reach the collapsing stage. It would be interesting to find a medical source on effects after 16-17 hours. At any rate, I have no doubt that drinking when you’re thirsty is the ‘best’ option, but I wonder if abstaining for that period of time actually counts as dehydration in any medical sense of the word.

    The second thing you should do is stop referring to fasting for 16-17 hours as ‘starving’. It is definitely nothing of the sort. I can’t even imagine what you’re trying to achieve with that kind of hyperbole.

  2. says

    Oh, whew – where you live Muslims are not collapsing all over the place, therefore it’s just fine to go without water for 18 hours in summer.

    It’s not necessarily the case that if X doesn’t cause you to collapse, X is perfectly fine.

    I’ve never said the issue was collapsing.

    And I haven’t been referring to fasting for 16-17 hours as ‘starving’ for fuck’s sake. It was the NHS that used that word, which is in fact a normal word for doing without food entirely. I reported something the NHS said about it, which wasn’t hyperbole at all.

    You need to stop lecturing me.

  3. Shatterface says

    My own employer excuses Muslim employees telephone and other duties during Ramadan which means that non-Muslims have to take up the slack. They’re often too fatigued to do anything at all useful and might as well take the time off.

    Now I’m fine with celebrating customs but not at the expense of others: if I’m planning to incapacitate myself the day after my birthday or St Patrick’s I book that day off as annual leave rather than sit in the corner nursing a hangover.

    If you are deliberately impairing your ability to carry out your duties you should have the grace to time your leave accordingly.

  4. says

    Oh and a couple of other things, Pen.

    I know it’s the NHS and I know his advice is for the UK.

    I already know something about the body’s need for water; I don’t need to “do some research” on it. And it has nothing to do with woo advice to drink mass quantities of it.

    When Katrina stranded all those thousands of people in New Orleans with no infrastructure? People died because there was no water. Water is a necessity. Nobody should ever be telling people to do without it.

    At Goldenbridge the children were forbidden water after teatime, in hopes that it would stop them wetting the bed. They got so thirsty they drank from the toilet cistern.

  5. Colin Daniels says

    If you are thirsty then you are already dehydrated. Any sports cyclist will tell you that you need to drink often, particularly when active. The damage is already being done if you only drink when you have a raging thirst.

  6. Menyambal says

    I went through Ramadan in a tropic climate. I tried to avoid eating and drinking in front of Muslims, and that was difficult enough. I would not have made it through a day in any kind of good condition, nor would I have been functioning at a level that was fair to my employer, if I had not had water at all, nor food at some time. (And that was near the equator, so the day wasn’t long. A northern summer day would be worse.) The Muslims who were fasting had it bad.

    For what it is worth, the Muslims that I knew celebrated the end of Ramadan like hell month was over. We bought a cow to contribute to the festivities, and it wasn’t the only one slaughtered.

    Ramadan might work for rich folks who want to meditate on their faith. There are exceptions allowed for folks with special needs, and maybe the rules should be bent further.

  7. johnthedrunkard says

    “Dr Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from Oxford, says there’s a strong relationship between diet and health.”

    Hasn’t anyone else noted the spectacular lunacy of that sentence. Why ask an ANAESTHETIST about diet and health? Does Dr Mahroof not feel embarrassed by being called in as the ‘spokes-camel-jockey’ for whatever journalist is asking?

    Hours of dehydration are dangerous as hell. Especially for diabetics, and the Gulf states have the highest rate of Type II Diabetes in the world. Obviously the wonderful health benefits of observant Sunnism at work.

  8. RJW says

    @1 Pen

    “Well he’s with the NHS so his advice is for the UK.”

    Since most Moslems don’t live in the UK or other cold countries, that really doesn’t explain how the other billion+ of the faithful endure Ramadan.

    @3 Shatterface

    “My own employer excuses Muslim employees telephone and other duties during Ramadan which means that non-Muslims have to take up the slack.”

    I used to resent smokers getting a few minutes time off for a nicotine hit.

  9. says

    I pass out or nearly pass out (everything goes swimmy and dark and if I can sit fast enough, I can usually remain conscious) if I don’t eat every few hours, and that’s when I’m working a desk job, at home, with minimal physical exertion. Not only would I be miserable on a fast, there’s a good chance I would seriously hurt myself. Atheism is clearly good for my health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *