Fri, 22 Dec 2000

Fasting can actually improve your health

By Tri Hafiningsih

JAKARTA (JP): Fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan can improve your overall health, new research shows.

The research, which was presented early this week, showed that an average of 12 percent reduction of caloric intake during the month's fasting period can reduce the production of free radicals and at the same time improve the anti-oxidant level in the body.

Free radical(s) is a popular term for an atom or group of atoms with a single unpaired electron -- capable of damaging, even killing human cells. It is formed during the body's normal metabolism, as well as from radiation and pollution.

Anti-oxidant agents in the body, on the other hand, functions as protection against free radical attacks. The inability to produce enough anti-oxidant decreases the ability to fight against infections or illnesses.

An internist and consultant for geriatrics, Siti Setiati, with several of her colleagues at Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital in Central Jakarta concluded in their research that fasting correlates with a significant improvement in health.

Siti based the research on earlier findings that 30 to 50 percent restriction of caloric intake of some tested animals resulted in longer life. The same research conducted in 1998 showed food restriction also resulted in significant improvement of anti-oxidant level, as well as decrease the production of free radicals in the animals. The caloric reduction in white mice improved their average life expectancy to 33 months compare to the normal average expectancy of 23 months. The highest life expectancy rate recorded for the species was 47 months.

Food restriction can also reduce the chances of being afflicted by cancer, cataract, kidney failure, diabetes, or hypertension. Similar experiments were conducted on protozoa, fish, insects, and spiders. Experiments on monkeys is currently in progress.

"We conducted our research out of curiosity whether such findings applied to human beings," she told reporters.

However, Siti said caloric restriction could not be tested on human beings.

"We can't tell people to reduce their normal diet by 30 or 50 percent. It's not ethical," she said.

Then, the team of researchers turned to the fasting ritual to find respondents with caloric restriction requirements. The restriction averaged only 12 percent to 15 percent, much less than the 30 percent to 50 percent requirements resulting in higher life expectancy in the tested animals. "At least we have somewhere to start," Siti said.

During the fasting month of Ramadhan, Muslims have to abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset.

Siti said during the fasting period, people have different diets compared to normal food consumption outside Ramadhan.

Earlier research shows that while fasting, a person has an average of 12 percent to 15 percent reduction of caloric intake compared to that of their normal diet.

For the latest research, the observations were recorded four times: the seventh day before Ramadhan, after the first week and the 17th day of the month, and at the second week after the fasting month.

The results show that the production of free radicals decreases significantly during the fasting period and they increase again after the fasting month -- but still on lower levels compared to that before fasting.

Similar observations on 42 elderly patients show that during the fasting period their kidney function was better.

"There were no disturbances related to kidney functions of the respondents, as long as the body has enough liquids," Siti said.

Other observations on fasting respondents showed similar improvement in various indicators, such as total cholesterol level, blood sugar responses of diabetics, and ability to prevent disturbances in the blood's thrombosis that can lead to arterial or venal coagulations, coronary diseases, and stroke.

Siti and her fellow doctors concluded that fasting could improve health. "I really believe that," Siti said.

But can it grant you a longer life? "Nobody knows. But with good health, you'd probably have a more useful and fruitful life."