The holy month of Ramadan is divided into three parts. During the first 10 days, Muslims' thoughts and prayers are focused on being merciful and charitable. The second 10 days emphasize the value of forgiveness. The final 10-day segment, which concludes this weekend with the fast-breaking feast Eid al-Fitr, is the time when God redeems our souls by granting the kingdom of heaven to the faithful.
But for Muslims, the whole month of Ramadan is a welcome opportunity to demonstrate emotional and physical self-control. In addition to denying ourselves food from sunrise to sunset, we also abstain from any behaviors that might be a distraction from our spiritual well-being, such as dishonesty, hate, envy and selfishness. These efforts nourish and renew our spiritual and mental health.
However, the ritual of fasting also has decided physical benefits. A recent study at the Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, confirms this science.
Fasting has long been associated with decreased risk for coronary artery disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world. Fasting reduces cardiac risk factors such as elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and weight gain. But now research has documented that the reactions in the body with fasting will bring the LDL cholesterol (also known as the "bad" cholesterol) down by 14 percent, and the HDL (the "good" cholesterol) would be increased by 6 percent, with significant reduction of the total cholesterol.
The mechanism goes like this: Fasting creates hunger, which triggers the sense of starvation in your body, causing the release of more cholesterol, allowing it to utilize fat instead of glucose, as a source of energy. This decreases the number of fat cells in the body, making it less likely to experience insulin resistance or Type II diabetes.
Fasting can help decrease heart attacks and strokes, both of which cause significant mortality and morbidity, costing billions of dollars in health care expenses. God has given us a free prescription — periodic fasting — for preserving our money and our health; we should take advantage of it.
Ramadan is a time to make our bodies and minds healthier and our world desperately needs both today. Senseless violence and killings, here and abroad, are devastating. Innocent people being gunned down in movie theaters in Colorado, and in religious temples in Wisconsin. A brand new mosque set afire in Missouri. Minority Muslims murdered in Burma. Sixteen Egyptian soldiers gunned down while protecting the borders of the Sinai and breaking their daily Ramadan fast by sharing dates as well as senseless killing of innocent lives in Syria for more than 18 months.
This is a time when all people of all faiths need spiritual renewal to combat the ill effects of hate and injustice. We need to be positive and do good deeds every day, not just during special holidays or observances. We need to use our collective energy to fight disease and hunger and to bring peace and harmony to our communities, and not be indifferent toward the injustices around you.
Dr. Adel Eldin is an interventional cardiologist.