Ramadan fasting linked to favorable metabolic changes and reduced chronic disease risk

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In a recently published study, Dr American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Researchers conducted a metabolomic study to elucidate the effects of Ramadan fasting on health and metabolism. Their study group included 72 participants who gave blood shortly before and after the Ramadan fast, based on which the researchers created a metabolic score. Results from a study comparing participants’ metabolic scores with those maintained by the UK Biobank revealed that fasting during Ramadan significantly reduced the risk of lung, colorectal and breast cancer.

Study: Ramadan Fasting Metabolism and Chronic Disease Risk.  Image credit: Odua Images/ShutterstockStudy: Metabolomics of Ramadan fasting and chronic disease risk. Image credit: Odua Images/Shutterstock

Can depriving your body of food make you healthier?

Fasting, the deliberate abstinence from food and sometimes liquids, is practiced for clinical, religious, political, and fitness reasons, the latter of which is rapidly growing in popularity. Reports reveal that worldwide, many health-conscious individuals are gravitating towards ‘time-restricted fasting’, a practice that restricts daily eating to a predetermined period of time each day (usually six to eight hours). Popularized by the term ‘intermittent fasting’, this trend promises general health improvements, weight loss and fitness benefits.

Unfortunately, in addition to observational evidence for weight loss, extensive metabolomic and cohort-based studies of other benefits of time-restricted fasting are lacking. Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, reflection, prayer and community, shares every feature of the time-limited fast except its purpose (Ramadan is a religious fast). This provides a ‘natural experiment’ to measure the positive or negative effects of time-restricted fasting.

Two previous works have investigated the effects of Ramadan fasting on health. However, these studies were small-scale (n = 11, 25) and focused on overweight and obese individuals who were not representative of fitness, with dated analytical tools. This represents the need for an updated study using the latest metabolomics techniques and a larger, more generalizable sample cohort, the results of which will inform billions of Muslims and health-conscious people worldwide.

About the study

In the current study, researchers recorded metabolic changes after fasting during Ramadan. Their study group was the London Ramadan Study (LORANS), an observational cohort of 140 Muslims who fast during Ramadan. Study data collection included demographic information, medical records, and two blood samples given a few days before and a few days after fast initiation. Additionally, blood pressure and body composition were recorded during routine blood collection.

Study inclusion criteria included age (over 18 years), rapid time course (20 days or more), and complete data records. Pregnant women were excluded from the study. After exclusion due to incomplete criterion requirements, 72 participants were included for data analysis, all providing written informed consent to participate in the study.

Blood samples were processed to separate and isolate the plasma, leading to high-throughput nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy using the Nightingale platform. The Nightingale platform was chosen due to its ability to detect and quantify 169 lipids and metabolites. It was also chosen because the United Kingdom (UK) Biobank dataset includes Nightingale platform reads. The UK Biobank is a large nationwide cohort study made up of over 500,000 English nationals representative of the country.

Linear mixed-effects models were used to compare NMR readings from blood samples given before and after fasting, allowing a one-to-one comparison of the metabolic changes that arise as a result of the fasting process. Additionally, UK Biobank Nightingale Platform metabolite readings were used to calculate metabolic risk scores for common chronic diseases including cancer and cardiometabolic disorders. These values ​​were applied to the NMR readings from this study to quantify the relative change in chronic disease risk resulting from Ramadan (and, by extension, intermittent) fasting.

Study results

Demographic analysis showed that the mean age of the 72-strong study group was 45.7 years, of which 48.6% (n = 35) were male. Body assessment during blood collection visits showed that participants lost an average of 1.7 kg and 1.1% of their body fat between the two and three weeks between measurements. Analyzes of the Nightingale platform showed that 14 of 169 measured metabolites were found to be significantly altered when comparing blood samples.

These included one inflammation marker, one amino acid, two glycolysis-related metabolites, two ketone bodies, two triglycerides, and six lipoprotein subclasses. The most significant differences before/after Ramadan were observed for lactate (β = -0.31, P < 0.001), acetate (β = -0.22, P < 0.001), tyrosine (β = - 0.10, P = 0.019) (all contrasts). . and acetone (β = 0.10, P = 0.019) (direct).

To establish metabolic risk scores, baseline characteristics of 117,981 UK Biobank participants were used to establish seven scores, including diabetes (using 46 metabolites), coronary heart disease (16), hypertension (25), renal failure (12), lung cancer (nine), colorectal cancer (two), and breast cancer (one). Applying these scores to the present study participants revealed a relative risk reduction of 9.6%, 2.4%, and 1.1% for lung, colorectal, and breast cancer, respectively. In contrast, other measured outcomes did not observe any changes in metabolic risk scores.

Conclusion

The current study used Ramadan fasting as a natural experiment to investigate the effects of time-restricted fasting on human health and chronic disease risk. It used state-of-the-art, high-throughput NRM spectroscopy via the Nightingale platform to calculate metabolic risk scores for chronic diseases.

When applied to 72 study participants, metabolic risk scores highlighted the beneficial role of Ramadan fasting in reducing the risk of certain cancers such as lung (-9.6%), colorectal (-2.4%), and breast (-1.1%). , although with no measurable effect on cardiovascular disease risk.

Ramadan fasting is associated with short-term favorable changes in metabolic profiles related to the risk of certain chronic diseases. These findings should be further investigated in future, larger studies with longer follow-up with clinical outcomes.

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