This Ramzan Find out How Fasting Is Good for the Brain
Ramzan or Ramadan is a time to detach from worldly pleasures and focus on the inner self. The ritual of fasting, which requires the individual to abstain even from water, intends to serve as a reminder of the less fortunate. During this period, one must avoid smoking, caffeine and even sex.
One common thing among all religions in the world is the ritual of fasting – for different reasons, at different times and in different quantities – but they all ask us to fast. Muslims have Ramzan, Hindus and Jains observe weekly fasts or on certain days of the year, and Christians fast during the 40-days of Lent. Other religions that practice fasting are Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, etc.
The spiritual reasons for fasting are pretty much the same – to be closer to God. But the physical affects of fasting are quite prominent too – in fact, Science suggests that we make fasting a part of our daily lives.
Multiple studies have proven that fasting is good for our bodies. According to Ayurveda, during a fast, the digestive tract is at rest. Since there is no food to digest, it burns toxins. In a TEDx talk by Mark Mattson, the current Chief of Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute of Aging, he talks about the effect that fasting or the idea of restricted diets, has on our brain. It improves cognitive function, stress resistance and reduces inflammation. And it’s pretty interesting!
1. Fasting Is as Good as Physical Exercise for the Brain
Our bodies are used to being fed three whole meals a day and sometimes mid-day snacks. During a fast, our brain perceives the lack of timely food being pumped in, as a challenge. It overcomes this by adapting stress response pathways (that help the body cope with stress and risk), which leads to an increase in the production of protein in our body. The protein helps in the growth of neurons and this chain reaction is similar to what our body experiences after regular physical exercise.
2. It Helps Improve Memory
First, lets rack our brains to remember some 10th grade Biology-terms like mitochondria, DNA, genome etc.
Fasting improves the ability of our nerve cells to repair DNA. Why would DNA need to be repaired, you may ask, and rightly so. How can something that defines everything about us need any repair? Well, it does. It’s a very little known fact that UV light and various kinds of radiation adversely affect our DNA. With better DNA and more number of neurons, the pathways (or synapses as they are called) are more active and better connected, thereby improving learning and memory ability.
3. Gives You a Stronger Immune System
Researches from the University of Southern California have concluded that fasting pushes our stem cells into a self-renewal state from their dormant state. Fasting kills old and damaged immune cells and gives way to new healthy cells. This happens because when your body receives less food, it tries to conserve energy and the best way to do so is to destroy cells that are not useful or are damaged.
4. Can Help Control Epileptic Seizures, Diabetes etc.
Patients are sometimes put on calorific restricted diets or fasts to help counter the over-excited signals of the brain that lead to seizures. A 2008 study from Utah, has found that fasting can lower unhealthy cholesterol levels and kick-start metabolic changes, thus reducing the chance of heart-related diseases by almost 85%.
5. And, Finally, It Helps the Body Detox
The process of detoxification involves eliminating the toxins that are body produces because of its everyday functions. Fasting helps this process, as when there is no food, it starts burning fat reserves for energy. The fat reserves contain the aforementioned toxins and thus, the body cleanses itself.
Mattson in his TEDx talk also points out that the human body isn’t meant for as much consumption of food as has become acceptable these days. Our ancestor, The Primitive Man, was never fully satiated with food and that’s what gave them the drive to exist. Something as simple as the fact, that we have ‘excess’ fat is proof of how much extra food we consume.
So for all those people fasting for Ramzan this month, if spiritual reasoning wasn’t enough, here is some scientific motivation!