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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

The impact of religious fasting on human health

John F Trepanowski and Richard J Bloomer*

Author Affiliations

Cardiorespiratory/Metabolic Laboratory, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA

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Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:57  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-57

Published: 22 November 2010

Abstract

The past two decades have seen a rise in the number of investigations examining the health-related effects of religiously motivated fasts. Islamic Ramadan is a 28 - 30 day fast in which food and drink are prohibited during the daylight hours. The majority of health-specific findings related to Ramadan fasting are mixed. The likely causes for these heterogeneous findings are the differences between studies in the following: 1) the amount of daily fasting time; 2) the percentage of subjects who smoke, take oral medications, and/or receive intravenous fluids; and 3) the subjects' typical food choices and eating habits. Greek Orthodox Christians fast for a total of 180 - 200 days each year, and their main fasting periods are the Nativity Fast (40 days prior to Christmas), Lent (48 days prior to Easter), and the Assumption (15 days in August). The fasting periods are more similar than dissimilar, and they can each be described as a variant of vegetarianism. Some of the more favorable effects of these fasts include the lowering of body mass, total cholesterol, LDL-C, and the LDL-C/HDL-C ratio. The Biblical-based Daniel Fast prohibits the consumption of animal products, refined carbohydrates, food additives, preservatives, sweeteners, flavorings, caffeine, and alcohol. It is most commonly partaken for 21 days, although fasts of 10 and 40 days have been observed. Our initial investigation of the Daniel Fast noted favorable effects on several health-related outcomes, including: blood pressure, blood lipids, insulin sensitivity, and biomarkers of oxidative stress. This review summarizes the health-specific effects of these fasts and provides suggestions for future research.