Staying Safe During Ramadan
Ramadan is a warm, community celebration for practising Muslims that involves a month of fasting, acts of kindness and charity and worship. Fasting is an important spiritual aspect of many religions. The Islamic month of Ramadan is one of the longest periods of religious fasting. As fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and taking medication from before sunrise to sunset.
For Muslims, the goal is to improve their spiritual and physical state and to create greater “taqwa”, or consciousness with God. Generally speaking, fasting during Ramadan is mandatory for all adult Muslims who are of sound mind and physically able to tolerate it. Anyone who is travelling, sick, pregnant or breastfeeding during Ramadan can make up the missed fasts when able. Most importantly, exceptions are made for people who cannot perform the fasting safely, such as the elderly and those who are chronically ill (e.g. those with diabetes). Instead, they can honour Ramadan through charity, such as by feeding a less privileged person in lieu of fasting.
Remaining healthy during Ramadan
The holy month started on the evening of 22nd March this year and will end on the evening of Friday 21st April, followed by the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr. The dates change from year to year (as it’s based on the Islamic lunar calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar). As such, in many European countries the fasting time can be between 15-17 hours in the day.
Understandably, this is a great challenge for even the fittest of people, but for those who have health conditions it matters more. Because fasting involves not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset, it can interfere with your medication routine. Patients with pre-existing medical conditions should have consulted with their doctor, pharmacist or specialist at least three to four weeks prior to Ramadan to review their condition and any treatment.
If you take your medication once a day in the morning, you may be able to switch to taking it in the evening when you are eating and drinking. On the other hand, some medications need to be taken on an empty stomach. Your pharmacist can be a valuable source of support when it comes to adjusting your medications during this period.
Conditions such as heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure and some arrhythmias can worsen if medication is not taken regularly, and your symptoms may become more severe.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it could be a sign you need to return to your normal medication routine:
- fluid building up in the ankles
- breathlessness and fatigue
- passing more urine than normal
- dizziness or fainting spells
- rapid heartbeat or pounding in the chest
- chest pain or pressure
If you live with diabetes and decide you are able to fast, bear in mind to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels to prevent hyper or hypoglycemia. You may also be more at risk of dehydration which could lead to thrombosis, so plan your meals with care and keep hydrated.
It’s a good idea to keep active during Ramadan, but you may need to adapt this, for example, by exercising more gently than usual. Try to find the time of day that works best for you to exercise. Walking, stretching and yoga are good types of exercise to try that can help with your mental wellbeing and help you feel less tired. Unless you are on a fluid restriction, try to drink plenty of fluid before sunrise so that you are well hydrated.
It’s important to continue to eat healthily during Ramadan. At suhoor (pre-dawn meal), make sure that you have a meal which is filling and gives you plenty of slowly released energy. Include wholegrain starchy carbohydrates such as oats, bulghur wheat, wholegrain bread or brown rice, fruits and vegetables and some protein. Be sure to wake up for Suhoor as skipping it can have a negative effect on your immune system. The early morning meal will also help maintain your metabolic rate. Skipping suhoor may make you feel weak, fatigued and can cause constipation.
Traditionally, many Muslims break their fast by eating dates with water, which will provide
fibre and energy from the natural sugars they contain. When opening your fast, base your meals on filling, slowly-digested carbohydrates. It might be tempting to eat quickly and in high volumes after you’ve been craving food all day – but it’s important to eat slowly to avoid bloating and indigestion.Try to include plenty of fruit and vegetables, and bake or grill your food instead of frying it. Staying away from fatty, sugary foods may improve your digestion, help you sleep, and protect your heart health. Hydrate well with sugar free drinks like water or sugar free squash at iftar and suhoor and try to limit salt and salty foods which can make you thirstier, as well as not being good for your blood pressure.
Staying connected with others throughout Ramadan will help you get through the fasting and keep an eye on friends and relatives who are also fasting.