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The Benefits of Fasting
The original meaning of the Arabic word we use for fasting, “sawm”, is to be at rest. We give rest to the gastro-intestinal tract, the sexual organs, the tongue, the eyes and ears, etc.
The time it takes for food to travel from the mouth to the end of the large intestine, called colon, is about 14 hours. This is the period – of 14 hours on average – is the same time that we fast and withhold any stimulus, reaching the stomach and the digestive system.
In fact, fasting is an additional safety device for the regenerative processes of the body.
The repair processes of the body and the brain, including the memory molecules take place when the body is at rest, especially during the stage of deep sleep.
Sleeping during Ramadan is much deeper than in other times.
Two hours of sleep during Ramadan are more satisfying and refreshing than more hours of sleep otherwise.
Fasting significantly increases deep sleep and reduces the dreaming time, which takes place during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
Fasting is a divine prescription. Allah Himself prescribed it in the Quran.
Because the Islamic fast does not exceed 14 hours on average, the normal steady state of the body is maintained as a result of coordinated physiological mechanisms. Hence, nearly all the biochemical laboratory results are normal.
During fasting serum magnesium increases. Magnesium has cardio-protective effects and it is used in prevention and treatment of heart disease. It has anti-platelet properties and prevents clotting.
Magnesium also is a membrane stabilizer acting on the sodium/potassium/calcium flux at the membrane level. Hence, it prevents cardiac and cerebral dysrhythmias.
Because of the these processes that fasting promotes, fasting prevents the formation of atheroma as well as dissolves atheromatous plaque which are responsible for heart attacks and strokes. Hence, fasting takes an active part in the rejuvenating processes of the body through many channels.
It increases the fibrinolytic activity of the blood, which leads to prevention and also dissolution of any recent clots.
Ramadan Puts a Healthy Mind Into a Healthy Body
During fasting, there is increased secretion of the growth hormone by the pituitary gland. This anabolic hormone synthesize proteins and collagen, which produces a positive nitrogen balance. It also stimulates erythropoiesis as well as collagen synthesis.
During the exercise of fasting, prayers, and different spiritual experiences of Ramadan, certain endogenous substances are released by the brain and spinal cord into the body called opioids, which include enkephalins and endorphins.
These are responsible for euphoria, tranquility, and serenity during such periods.
Endorphins and enkephalins are natural painkillers. Endorphins may be responsible for the “feel nice” effects, experienced by many people after rigorous exercise.
Both endorphins and enkephalins are derived from beta-lipotropin. On release, it is cleaved to form three major active products: met-enkephalin, gamma-endorphin, and beta-endorphin.
Beta-endorphin is most active and is about 20 times as potent as morphine.
Our Brains in Action
In addition to their painkilling properties, the narcotic analgesics cause a profound feeling of well-being (euphoria).
It is this feeling that is in part responsible for the psychological drive of certain persons who are fasting. Other mechanisms reduce pain sensation by blocking the transmission of pain message to the brain.
To alter the pain sensation, the brain and spinal cord release specialized neurotransmitters called endorphins and enkephalins. These chemicals interfere with pain impulse transmission by occupying the nerve cell receptors, required to send the impulse across the synapse.
By making the pain impulse travel less efficiently, endorphins and enkephalins can significantly lessen the perception of pain. In extreme circumstances, they can even make severe injuries nearly painless.
If an athlete is injured during the height of competition, or a soldier injured during a fight, or persons who are fasting, they may not realize they are in pain, until after the stressful situation has ended. T
his happens because the brain produces abnormally high levels of endorphins or enkephalins, in periods of intense stress, excitement, or fasting.
More to follow in Part 2.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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