The Physical (and Mental) Health Benefits of Fasting, Explained by Dr. Saliha | Savoir Flair
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The Physical (and Mental) Health Benefits of Fasting, Explained by Dr. Saliha
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by Dr. Saliha Afridi 4-minute read March 5, 2024

Fasting — when done right — can transform your physical and mental health for the better. 

As much as Muslims look forward to Ramadan, the practice of fasting is still seen as a challenge. There are many misconceptions about fasting by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Many believe that fasting will disrupt their daily routines, that they will lose focus, be tired and dehydrated all day, or that it will negatively affect their metabolisms.  

Dr. Saliha Afridi, the Founder and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia, is trying to change that misconception. A leading mental health professional, speaker, and activist in the region, she has actively been spreading the word about how fasting in Ramadan can boost both your physical and mental health. Her work helps to motivate practicing Muslims and encourages her followers to go beyond abstaining from food and water and use the month to do more of what feeds their souls. This includes meditation, gratitude, prayer, checking on your loved ones, giving back to the community, and so much more.

The truth is that fasting — when done right — can transform your health for the better. Below, Dr. Afridi reveals how.

The Physical Health Benefits of Fasting


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1

Decreases the Risk of Obesity and Chronic Diseases

Fasting can produce ketosis, which is a process that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough glucose for energy, so it breaks down stored fat instead.

2

Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is the root of many diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune disease, IBS, depression, and anxiety. Fasting reduces the production of pro-inflammatory markers and other inflammation markers in the body.

3

Activates Autophagy

Autophagy is your body’s process of reusing old and damaged cell parts and is fundamental to the body cleaning and rebuilding itself. While fasting, your body does not expend energy on digesting food and instead uses that energy to kickstart the process of recovery to clean and heal itself from bacteria and viruses, as well as deteriorated cells and damaged proteins, to maintain the health of your cells.

4

Reduces Blood Pressure

Reducing your calorie intake during the day has been shown to lower blood pressure. Studies show that while fasting, the nervous system is in a more relaxed state, in contrast to the heightened sense of alertness associated with increased blood pressure. High blood pressure is also linked to many physical and mental health diseases.

5

Improves Insulin Sensitivity

Fasting can help improve insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar levels. This may be beneficial for individuals with insulin resistance; however, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before fasting, especially if you have physical health conditions.

The Mental Health Benefits of Fasting


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1

Improves Mood

Once the body has detoxified from caffeine and other substances, which typically takes a week, people experience improved mood, discipline, and mental clarity. Fasting is said to increase the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a crucial role in brain health, mood regulation, and cognitive function. Higher BDNF levels have been associated with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety.

2

Improves Memory and Learning

Fasting may increase mental clarity and focus by stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing the energy required for digestion. This can lead to better cognitive performance and concentration during the fasting period.

3

Decreases Stress and Anxiety

Fasting may help reduce stress by promoting a sense of self-control and discipline. It can also help lower cortisol levels, the hormone responsible for stress responses. Additionally, fasting can stimulate the production of endorphins, which are natural mood elevators that help alleviate anxiety and depression.

4

Improves Cognitive Function

Fasting may improve cognitive function by promoting the production of BDNF, and autophagy also helps maintain the health of brain cells.

5

Increases Emotional Resilience

Regular fasting can help develop mental resilience by encouraging individuals to cope with the challenges of hunger and abstaining from food. This resilience can translate to other aspects of life, promoting better stress management and emotional regulation. 

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