FROM THE GRIO — Many religious faiths recommend spiritual strengthening through periods of prayer and fasting — a sacred time to commune with God while abstaining from all food, drink, or both. Today actually marks the first day of the month of Ramadan, where Muslims worldwide begin fasting during daylight hours.
While fasting is a commendable spiritual practice, it’s one that could come with major health risk when you have diabetes.
Fasting can last from one day to a month or longer. People of the Jewish faith fast for 25 hours from sundown to sundown during Yom Kippur. Muslims fast during daylight hours for the entire holy month of Ramadan. And many Christian religions call for it when there’s a need to reinforce spiritual discipline, put a situation under concentrated prayer, or experience divine intervention. During the Lenten season Christians fast and pray for 40 days.
Fasting during Ramadan
Ramadan represents more of a challenge than other spiritual fasts — particularly when you have diabetes. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from all food, drink, use of oral medications and smoking from sunup to sundown. Christians experience a less restrictive fast during the 40-day Lenten season. You may give up eating certain foods or meals throughout the season, but not all food is forbidden. You can usually continue taking your daily medications.
But, for a Muslim with diabetes, going without food and drink for several hours a day, and many days at a time, can lead to serious complications. And for that reason, many healthcare providers discourage people with diabetes from fasting during Ramadan.
Know the Risks
Understanding the risks can help you avoid serious health problems while fasting.
- Hypoglycemia: a drop in blood sugar due to decreased food intake. Signs include nervousness, dizziness, feeling shaky, sweating, sleepiness, and confusion. If left untreated, hypoglycemia may lead to unconsciousness.
- Hyperglycemia: a blood-sugar spike that can happen when you aren’t taking as much medicine, or when you begin to eat again after the fast.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA): a reaction to less insulin or poorly-controlled diabetes prior to the fast or both. This is an emergency condition and you should call your healthcare provider immediately. Signs of DKA are nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, a fruity breath odor, and rapid breathing. Untreated DKA can lead to coma and death.
- Dehydration: occurs due to decreased fluid intake during fast. Dehydration can be mild, moderate, or severe based on how much of the body’s fluid is lost and not replenished. Severe dehydration is a life-threatening emergency.