Employee & Community Health

How Ramadan fasting may affect your health

5/1/2017 by Dr. Muhamad Elrashidi

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Fasting during Ramadan involves abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset. Depending on the time of year when Ramadan occurs, fasting may range form 10 hours in winter months to 17 hours in the summer. For most individuals, this daily fast should not have a negative effect on their health. Even those with chronic conditions, including coronary artery disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, can fast safely if their conditions are well managed and uncomplicated. 

However, any individual with a chronic condition, but particularly those with complications or requiring medication for management should take an opportunity for thoughtful planning and preparation in order to avoid experiencing problems or worsening of their conditions if they choose to fast. Because fasting is not intended to cause harm, it is important for people to consider consulting with their health care providers before Ramadan - or any time they plan to fast - to help plan how best to maintain good health or whether fasting is safe for them. Some questions to ask include: 

  • Is fasting safe based on my health conditions? 
  • How is it best to take my medications? 
  • Could medications taken multiple times per day be changed to allow for once-a-day dosing? 
  • Should I check blood glucose levels more frequently or change my insulin or other medication dosing? 

Taking medications

Medications taken by mouth or intravenous feeding are considered breaking one's fast. As a result, these should be given or administered before dawn or after sunset, if safe to do so, if an individual chooses to fast. 

However, Islamic scholars generally recognize that other medications do not break the fast and may be taken during hours of fasting. These include medication skin patches or creams, eye/ear drops, injections given in the skin or muscle (including insulin), supplemental oxygen or non-swallowed mouthwash or gargles. In addition, many scholars also hold that nasal sprays and inhalers do not break one's fast. 

Those planning to fast should drink plenty of liquids during non-fasting hours and limit caffeinated or highly sugared beverages. It also is recommended to avoid or limit highly processed food or those high in fat. Individuals with health concerns are encouraged to consult with their primary care provider, other providers or pharmacists to ensure they remain in the best possible health during Ramadan. Other helpful resources are: 

Dr. Muhamad Elrashidi is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine and an assistant professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. He is the community internal medicine section head for Southeast Minnesota and a Kern Center Population Health Scholar with a focus on high-value, integrated care delivery models.