ADAKAH KITA BOLEH HAMIL KETIKA...
This month is special because it is the fasting month of our fellow Muslim friends. Let’s take this opportunity to learn what happens inside your body when you are fasting!
When we discuss the physiology of normal fed state and fasting state, we cannot run away from these hormones: insulin and glucagon.
When we consume food, complex carbohydrates get broken down to simple sugars called glucose which is then released into our bloodstream. Insulin which is produced by the pancreas helps to transport these glucose (which comes from your food) into various cells in your body and store the excess in your liver and skeletal muscles as glycogen.
When your body runs out of glucose in the blood (observed between meals or in fasting state), glucagon which is another hormone produced in the pancreas too, would in turn send a signal to liver to convert the glycogen back to glucose and release it into the bloodstream. Glucose are readily available in the bloodstream, in which other organs are able to utilise them. Both insulin and glucagon work in tandem to regulate the glucose level in our body.
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Glucose is the primary source of energy of the body. By metabolising glucose the body gains energy to carry out the essential biochemical processes to sustain life.
Unlike glucose, glycogen is not soluble in water and cannot pass in and out of cells unless it is broken down into smaller, more soluble units. This insolubility is the main reason why glycogen is a better storage unit than glucose. Glycogen will only be converted into glucose when the body really needs it.
During fasting, circulating glucose levels in the bloodstream tend to fall. Your body senses the drop in glucose, hence the production of insulin is reduced automatically.
Concurrently, as your body goes into a fasting state, levels of glucagon and catecholamines (such as adrenaline) rise to break down glycogen, thereby replenishing the glucose level available in the body. Your liver also starts to churn out more glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis (creation of glucose from non-carbohydrate precursors).
As the fasting prolonged, your body would eventually run out of glycogen. Your body would start to switch its primary energy source from glucose to body fat. Fat would be metabolised (or ‘burnt’) to provide energy for skeletal muscles, heart, liver, kidney, and adipose tissue to function optimally. Interesting to note, during this stage, your brain still runs on glucose, as it is the most effective power source for the brain. That reason behind why the body burns fat as fasting prolongs is to spare the remaining glucose available in the bloodstream to be used for your brain.
Image from Freepik
Beyond this phase, when fasting further ensued, your body eventually enters into the starvation phase. Your body essentially uses protein as an energy source by breaking down the muscles. This is a dangerous stage and food intake is a must to sustain yourself!
However, most religious fasts seldom exceed 24 hours and hence, will not go into the dangerous phase.
Fasting allows the body to detoxify the digestive system as we abstain from all matter of solids and liquids throughout the day. Thus, improving the function of organs by improving blood circulation and removing any harmful toxins in the body.
During fasting month, the body gets accustomed to not feeling hungry all the time. The hunger hormone called ghrelin is noticeably reduced and this explains why overall hunger levels seem to be lesser as one approaches the third day of fasting and beyond. The reduction in food consumption also causes the stomach to gradually shrink; i.e. eating less amount can make you feel full.
Aids in weight loss
For Muslims who wish to lose weight, Ramadan is an ideal opportunity to achieve this goal. When the human body undergoes a starvation process, the body starts burning calories more slowly. It utilizes carbohydrates as its primary fuel, ensuring there is a constant source of energy for the body. Weight loss is also achieved due to decrease in the number of meals in a day which significantly contributes to the reduction of calorie intake.
Lowers cholesterol level
A group of cardiologists in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) found that during fasting, there is a reduction of cholesterol in blood. Low cholesterol levels increases cardiovascular health, which inversely reduces the risk of getting a heart disease, heart attack or stroke.
Improves blood sugar (glucose)
Fasting may improve the way the body manages glucose and cut down on insulin resistance. Fasting also helps to keep the glucose steady, preventing spikes and crashes in glucose levels.
Absorb more nutrients
There is an increase in the hormone adiponectin which allows the muscles to absorb more nutrients when one fasts throughout the day and eats later at night. The hormone also helps to prevent atherosclerosis (buildup of fats, cholesterol plaques in your artery walls) and can improve the body's insulin resistance.
Boost the brain and cognitive function
Fasting increases the level of endorphins in the blood. This in turn gives the feeling of positivity, better sense of well-being and greater mental health.
Delay ageing and extend longevity
Fasting could potentially slow down the aging process. It also leads to production of restored tissues and cells within the body, reducing unnecessary cells in the process. This allows the production of collagen, leading to healthier and more radiant skin.
Fasting can be beneficial to Muslims especially during Ramadan. However if continuous fasting exceeds beyond 24 hours, it could potentially cause harm to our body. Wishing our Muslims friends a blessed Ramadan. May this holy month give you prosperity, joy and bring you closer to the Almighty!
Medically reviewed by Ashwini Nair, MB BCh BAO.
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