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health lead Ramadan-Kareem-WallpaperResearch conducted at the National Institute on Aging, USA, earlier this year, has revealed several health benefits of fasting – including weight loss, mental agility and a longer life.

Fasting requires a gap of 12-13 hours between meals, and in this time, glycogen and fat deposits in the body are utilised to produce energy for movement and therefore their levels are decreased. If people who are fasting do not indulge in foods that have high levels of sugar and fat during sehri and iftar, then their cholesterol, fat and sugar levels decrease, which translate into lower chances of contracting diseases and conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Furthermore, fasting causes increased secretion of somatropin, a growth hormone that utilises triglycerides (harmful fats) to build muscle, as well as increased levels of catecholamines (a hormone produced by the adrenal gland) in the blood, which burns fat.

After a few weeks of fasting, the level of endorphins (chemicals with pain suppressant and mood enhancing properties) increases in the bloodstream, alleviating depression and creating a feeling of well-being.

The benefits of fasting do not end here. According to Mark Mattson, chief neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, “fasting increases neurogenesis (a process by which the body generates new cells to replace damaged ones) that speeds up healing in cases of physical brain trauma and disease.”

Furthermore, fasting is believed to increase levels of the protein BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which is responsible for maintaining cognitive health – including memory, mental alertness and learning ability – and is also believed to reduce the incidence of life-threatening diseases and conditions among people over the age of 45, such as Alzheimer’s, strokes, head injuries and depression.

– Dr Samia Babar
The writer is Director, Health Awareness Society.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on June 22, 2014.