Fasting and Medicine

By Dr. Mohammed Saleem, Asst Professor- Internal Medicine

By the time you finish reading this article, you will come to appreciate just some of your Lord’s wisdom in His ordainment of fasting. As mentioned in the Quran 2:183 “ Oh you who believe the fasts have been enjoined upon you as they were enjoined upon those before you so that you may be God-fearing”

Medical research has developed a keen interest in fasting over the last few decades. A Japanese scientist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, received the Noble Peace Prize in 2016 as he discovered a biological process called “autophagy.” This process naturally recycles body cells critical times like fasting. It removes misfolded proteins, damaged organelles and intracellular pathogens. Furthermore, it promotes cell surface antigen presentation and plays a key role in the prevention of cancer, neurodegeneration, cardiomyopathy, auto immune diseases and other infections.

Below I have highlighted some of the clinical benefits of fasting induced AUTOPHAGY:

1. Prevention of neurodegeneration: 

A substance called UBIQUITIN builds up in inclusion bodies within cells resulting in neurodegeneration. Autophagy clears ubiquitin from the cells and prevents neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

2. Cancer treatment:

Fasting induced autophagy enhances the effect of immunotherapy, a cancer treatment modality that is gaining popularity today. This happens with the help of Autophagy inducers like TGF-beta, interferon – gamma, IL-1,  IL-2 and IL-12.

Currently autophagy activators are used in tumor therapy for osteosarcoma, neuroblastoma, prostate cancer, breast cancer, gastric tumors, pancreatic cancer and colorectal cancer.

Autophagy inhibitors are used in cervical cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, glioblastoma and renal cell cancer.

3. Autophagy also has protective effects on the cardiovascular system:

Autophagy is necessary to maintain redox homeostasis. Decline of autophagy might contribute to redox dependent cardiovascular diseases and age related cardiovascular diseases. In atherosclerotic plaques, AUTOPHAGY is a survival mechanism safeguarding plaque cells against cellular distress. Loss of the AUTOPHAGY gene Atg5 causes cardiac hypertrophy.

4. There is also evidence that aging and age related diseases are related to decline in the process of autophagy.

Many more benefits to be discovered as research interest in the topic of fasting grows.

Conclusion:

These are just a few of the many biological benefits of fasting.

We know fasting induced autophagy helps our bodies in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It also protects our cardiovascular system and controls our immune system.

As Muslims, we fast irrespective of these benefits, solely for the sake of pleasing Allah (SWT). Due to His grace, he allows us to reap these added benefits through this beautiful act of worship and servitude.

All praises to the Lord of the worlds.

References available on request

Asst Professor- Internal Medicine

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