Friday, 24 August 2012

Circadian rhythm and post-Ramadan Care: Refixing the body clock after the Islamic holy month of fasting

By Syed Akbar

The fasting month of Ramzan is over. As the devout Muslims, who had kept daylong fasts 
and offered prayers until late in the nights, try to refix their body or biological 
clock, researchers around the globe will be busy analyzing the data collected during the 
month on the health effect of Ramzan on the individual’s health.

Ramzan is an interesting subject of research for scientists and doctors, particularly 
those specializing in endocrinology (hormones), kidney, heart, brain and lungs. The 
month-long strict observance of fasting coupled with physical exercise in the form of 
long prayers late in the night, disrupts the body clock, which scientists call circadian 
rhythm.

A number of researchers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh conducted pre and post Ramzan 
studies on health topics ranging from diabetes to lactation and insomnia to thyroid 
issues. Doctors from Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad, were also part of the pre-Ramzan 
studies. Refixing the body clock post-Ramzan takes time, and it usually goes back to 
normal circadian rhythm within two to four weeks.

People, who had kept all night vigil during the month spending time in prayers, find it 
difficult to sleep once Ramzan is over. Doctors in Saudi Arabia have issued health 
warnings against use of sleeping pills to beat insomnia. Doctors in Hyderabad, however 
feel that Muslims in India do not suffer from post-Ramzan insomnia, as unlike Saudis, 
they do not change the sleep pattern much.

“The impact of change in the circadian rhythm during Ramzan serves as a unique research 
opportunity. It not only helps scientists understand how human body adopts to changes 
during Ramzan in the routine daily schedule, with which it was accustomed to for 11 long 
months, but also provides an insight for research on future space travels,” says senior 
researcher Dr MN Khaja.

Since millions of people in all climatic and geographical conditions observe Ramzan, 
which involves sleep disruptions and hormonal changes, scientists will be able to know a 
lot more about hormones like leptin, (which controls food cravings and weight), melatonin 
(which induces sleep), cortisol (which maintains stress), and testosterone (reproductive).

Says sleep expert Prof Ahmed BaHammam, who has been associated with Ramzan research for 
almost a decade, “there has been increased interest in recent years in sleep changes and 
daytime sleepiness during Ramzan.”

Stating that experimental fasting has been shown to alter the sleep-wakefulness pattern 
in various animals, Prof Ahmed points out that as fasting during Ramzan is distinct from 
experimental fasting, the physiological and behavioural changes occurring during Ramzan 
fasting may differ from those occurring during experimental fasting.

An interesting aspect about Ramzan research findings so far is that despite changes in 
the release of various hormones the month-long fasting and late night prayers do not 
negatively affect one’s health. However, researchers have cautioned patients with kidney 
and heart issues against fasting. The caution also applies to diabetics, whose blood 
sugar is out of control quite frequently.

“I do not advice patients with severe renal problems to fast. It causes harm to the 
kidneys as the body is deprived of water supply for prolong hours. Fasting, however, 
helps the kidneys function better if the person is healthy and without any health 
issues,” points out Dr Mohammad Abdul Rafay, kidney specialist at Apollo hospitals.

Doctors say cortisol hormone returns to normal condition within a month after the fasting 
concludes. Fasting also does not affect the level of brain activation during cognitive 
tasks, according to researcher Dr Munir C Muhammad. Prolonged fasting results in a number 
of small changes in metabolism and hormonal secretions. But this is harmless for healthy 
individuals.

Post Ramzan health tips

-
* Do not take sleeping pills to beat insomnia

* Consult physician in case you do not get sleep during nights

* Gradually shift in diet as the body does not cope up with sudden dietary changes

* Diabetics and kidney patients, who kept fast, should consult their doctor for post 
Ramzan examination

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