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Ramadan fasting can increase body’s immune function

Fasting is thought to put the body into an “energy conservation mode” due to the lack of nutrients coming in. To save energy, the body recycles many of its old or damaged immune cells, which later promotes the generation of new, healthier immune cells when the fasting period ends
Fahmida Hashem
Ramadan fasting can increase body’s immune function

This year Ramadan is very different from previous years due to the outbreak of a terrible microscopic giant called coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). This pandemic has infected millions of people around the world and killed thousands, especially people with immunodeficiency. 

Ramadan fasting has been shown to impact body systems in different manners.

The influence of fasting on immune system regulation remains elusive. This influence may shed light on the immune status of fasting people. From an immunologic point of view, Ramadan fasting could be perceived as a stressor leading to alteration of the immune system.

Fasting is thought to put the body into an “energy conservation mode” due to the lack of nutrients coming in. To save energy, the body recycles many of its old or damaged immune cells, which later promotes the generation of new, healthier immune cells when the fasting period ends. These new cells are quicker and more efficient at fighting infections so overall immunity improves. It is interesting to note that, over the past few years, the beneficial effects of some types of fasting such as reduced meal frequency, caloric restriction, have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

There have been many studies on the effects of Ramadan fasting on the immune system. They have shown that fasting can restore the immune system. Fasting for a long time allows the body to start producing new white blood cells, which rejuvenates the immune system to fight infection. As a result, changes in the body cause the stem cells to regenerate new cells in the immune system.

The promising results of studies have shown that inflammatory cytokines, oxidative stress markers, and C-reactive protein (CRP) might be reduced by Ramadan fasting. On the other hand, various studies have confirmed that cytokine storms are an essential mechanism of coronaviruses, which produces large amounts of inflammatory cytokines. Accordingly, the main mechanism of the Covid-19 virus is the inflammatory cytokine storm.

Research published by the University of Southern California has shown that prolonged fasting can lead to the regeneration of the cells of your immune system. When we begin to fast, the body initially breaks down several immune-fighting white blood cells. It instinctively knows to start saving energy and one way it does this is by killing off old or damaged immune cells. But it quickly adjusts and triggers the regeneration of new cells, therefore increasing the number of immune-boosting cells that we have. The research found that cells in the body that support the immune response and attack invading pathogens leave the bloodstream when we stop eating as the nutrient content becomes low. 

As fasting will last around 14.5 hours this year, the effects of prolonged fasting may not be seen, but there are things you can do to support your immune system. It is important to eat the right types of food after dusk, containing certain key vitamins and nutrients, as they can have a direct effect on our immunity and help fight certain illnesses. Just as importantly, eating the wrong things can weaken the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to attack from germs and viruses.

Fatty and sugary foods should be avoided at Iftar as they make blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels harder to control, but they also harm immunity. Sugar in high levels can suppress the immune response by affecting the cells that fight bacteria and fried and salty foods have been shown to cause inflammation in the gut which affects the immune response. Try to also limit processed foods as they can hurt immunity and minimize red meat as much as possible as it also increases the risk of inflammation.   

It has been proven that supporting immune function and enhancing individual resistance is essential to fighting Covid-19, and the most important ways to strengthen and boost personal immunity are to avoiding overconsumption of calories and to undertake a proper exercise programme.

Fasting may give your immune system a boost, especially if you support this with healthy and balanced choices when you break your fast. Make sure your healthy choices this Ramadan. As this will be our second Ramadan during a coronavirus pandemic, it is impossible to know whether fasting may offer some level of protection against getting the illness itself. Although it is not beyond the realms of possibility, it is important to stick to the things that we do know work: social distancing, hand-washing, hygiene, and self-isolation.

The writer is Sr. Nutritionist, Labaid Cardiac Hospital.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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