Maintaining your health during Ramadan fasting
3/23/2022 by Muhamad Elrashidi, M.D., M.H.A.
Fasting during Ramadan involves abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset. Depending on geography and the time of year when Ramadan occurs, fasting can range from 10 hours in the winter to more than 17 hours in the summer. For most individuals, this daily fast should not have a negative effect on your health. Even if you have a chronic condition, including coronary artery disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, you can fast safely if your condition is well managed and uncomplicated.
However, anyone with a chronic health condition who chooses to fast — especially if you have complications or take medications to manage it — should take time to plan and prepare in order to avoid experiencing problems or worsening of your condition. Because fasting is not intended to cause harm, it's important to consider consulting your health care provider before Ramadan — or any time you plan to fast — to plan how best to maintain good health or determine whether fasting is safe for you.
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 a day be changed to once-a-day dosing?
- Should I check blood glucose (sugar), levels more frequently, or change my insulin or other medication dosing?
Medications taken by mouth or intravenous feeding are considered to break your fast. As a result, if it is safe to do so, these types of medications should be given or administered before dawn or after sunset if you choose to fast and if it is safe to do so.
However, Islamic scholars generally recognize that other medications do not break the fast and may be taken during hours of fasting. These include medicated skin patches or creams, eye and ear drops, injections given in the skin or muscle (including insulin), supplemental oxygen or mouthwash or gargles that are not swallowed. In addition, many scholars also hold that nasal sprays and inhalers do not break your fast.
For those planning to fast, it's recommended you drink plenty of liquids when you're not fasting, and limit caffeinated or highly sugared beverages. It's also recommended that you avoid or limit highly processed foods or foods high in fat, and eat healthy, balanced meals with moderate portion sizes.
The consensus among Islamic scholars is that getting a vaccine does not break a fast. As such, it is completely appropriate to be vaccinated during fasting hours, including receiving a vaccine against COVID-19.
If you have a health condition or a concern, you are encouraged to consult with your primary care provider, another provider or a pharmacist to ensure you remain in the best possible health during Ramadan.
Other helpful resources:
- Caring for Muslim patients who fast during Ramadan (American Academy of Family Physicians).
- Fasting in Ramadan and Muslim patients (IMANA).
Muhamad Elrashidi, M.D., is a general internist in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine. He is the Community Internal Medicine section head for Southeast Minnesota and chair of the Midwest Community Division.