The start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year prompted a debate on social media about the safety of fasting during Ramadan, with one Algerian politician going so far as to call for it to be banned altogether.
Ramadan 2021 has started this week and continues through May 11 or 12. For Muslims, Ramadan fasting means abstaining from eating and drinking from dawn till sunset throughout the holy month.
Public concern that a lack of daytime food and water might make people more susceptible to Covid-19 motivated Hatem Zayed, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Qatar University’s College of Health Sciences, to publish an article summing up the scientific evidence on the impact of fasting on immunity to infection.
Published in November last year, it concluded that fasting can improve body wellness and performance of the immune system of healthy adult Muslims, and is expected to accelerate the healing process for patients with Covid-19.
“It is very important for academics to confront misconceptions that circulate among the public about fasting and its negative effect on Covid-19 infection,” said Taghreed Abunada, co-author of the article and a teaching assistant at the College of Health Sciences.
But, she said, “while fasting by itself is proven to boost immunity, the beneficial effects … might be reduced by the sleep pattern practiced in the blessed month of Ramadan,” when people often stay up late or eat heavy meals at night.
Calls for Additional Studies
A study published in October 2020 reached similar conclusions. It reviewed available literature on the effects of Ramadan fasting and intermittent fasting in general on human health and linked them to Covid-19.
It demonstrated that fasting reduces levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are associated with severe Covid-19, and concluded that Ramadan fasting is not a cause of concern for healthy people who adopt a balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids, and engage in regular physical activity.