Fasting and Mental Health in Nigeria

Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss dieting concept

Keywords: Fasting, abstinence, Ramadan fasting, dry fasting, wet fasting, intermittent fasting, caloric restrictions, Christian fasting, Mediterranean diet, ketones, Nigeria.


Fasting and Mental Health in Nigeria. What are the different types of fasting? How does fasting affect the brain? Is fasting safe? What are the effects of fasting on mental health?

Fasting is the voluntary reduction one takes from eating a whole meal during the day and drink for specified time. Some people can fast for 6 to 24 hours, while others can fast on daily basis for weeks.

Abstinence is omission from certain foods or drinks or actions. For example, Christians abstain from meat as a rule at a certain period, while Muslims abstain from tobacco during fasting.

Certain individuals may also abstain from sex and other actions. These can be for a short period or very long period.

People fast for different reasons. Some fast for religious reasons. This is because they believe that fasting is a means to fortify the body, purify the spirit, and elevate consciousness. For example, in Islam, the Muslims fast everyday for one month during the month of Ramadan. During the Lenten period, Christians fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from eating meat for the period of Lent. Some Catholics abstain from meat every Friday for a whole year.

Others fast for medical or health reasons, especially to lose weight. Some of the people who do weight reduction via fasting may do it just for fashion reasons. Those who are addicted to alcohol may decide to abstain from it certain days of the week as treatment.

Many people who fast for whatever reason, are not aware of the effects of fasting and mental health in Nigeria.

What are the different types of fasting?

There are different types of fasting.

Dry fasting:

In dry fasting, for the period the person doesn’t eat, he or she will also abstain from drinking any liquid.

Wet fasting:

During wet fasting, the person misses meals, but takes fluids, like water. For those who cannot survive on only water fast, they can add daily vegetable or bone broth into the fast. This also provides fluids and micronutrients.

Intermittent fasting:

Intermittent fasting is the reduction in the daily food intake. This type of fasting can be done one or two days a week or on daily basis for 12 to 18 hours. It can be done alternate days.

Time restricted fasting –

In intermittent fasting, you chose to eat at specific periods and fasts for the rest of the day. For example, you may eat for 8 hours and fast for 16 hours.

Modified fasting –

Or you may choose to eat just one meal a day for 2 days in a week and eat regularly for the rest of the 5 days.

Complete alternate day fasting –

Here there is no eating and drinking at all alternate days. But one eats regularly on other days.

Calorie restrictions:

Calorie restriction requires reducing the daily calorie or energy intake while maintaining adequate nutrition.

Count calories –

So there is need to count the calories that you eat. Reduce or eliminate processed food and sauce such as salad creams, etc.

There are needs to cut down on sweetened drinks such as juices, soft drinks, etc. They have high carbohydrate level. For example a 475-ml bottle of Coke has about 200 calories with 44 grams of sugar. So learn to read labels.

Don’t add sugar to your tea or coffee. And cook your food, don’t eat out. Then as you eat, use small plates to serve yourself the food, filling it up with more of veggies and fruits.

Take fluids –

Taking 2 cups of water before starting to eat reduces the caloric intake. Also taking light soup before meals gives the same effect as water.

Eat slowly –

Consuming meals slowly helps one get filled up faster, so that less food is taken. If you eat with your non dominant hand, it can slow you down.

Add proteins –

Including protein into your meals and eating it first, will help reduce the amount of other nutrients taken.

Reduce frying –

Instead of frying, grill, air-fry, steam, stew, boil or poach the food.

Religious fasting:

Religious fasting is practiced by people of all faiths, such as Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, etc.  It is practiced for religious purposes and is characterized by different forms of caloric restriction and abstinence from certain foods.

Majority of Nigerian Religious leaders do not know how fasting and mental health in Nigeria are related.

Ramadan fasting –

During Ramadan fasting, Muslims the world over must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual intercourses, and all sensory pleasures from dawn to sunset, for the period of 30 days.

Within the fast period, water and food consumption are mainly taken at night, i.e after sunset. But some people take another food before going to bed. Then a lighter food is taken before day break.

Christian fasting –

These have been mentioned earlier. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, there is obligatory fast of 6am to 12noon. Then every Friday one is to abstain from meat during the Lenten period.

But there is also a type of Christian fast known as Daniel fast.  Here, some Christians stay away from eating animal products, refined carbohydrates, preservatives, food additives, alcohol, caffeine, etc. It is can be observed from between10 and 40 days.

Mediterranean diet:

Mediterranean diet is made up of plant-based foods, combining vegetables, fruits, cereals, nuts, and legumes. They are cooked by adding olive oil, with fish, seafood or dairy, and a reduced intake of meat and alcohol.

How does fasting affect the brain?

Most fasting types, including intermittent fasting.

They affect the brain positively in most cases.

Production of energy source for the brain:

It is a known fact that the brain makes use of glucose from the food we eat as its energy source.

After absorption from a meal, glucose will enter the liver and levels of blood glucose   rises. The glucose in the liver is converted into glycogen for storage in the liver.

Now during fasting, the liver makes glucose by both breakdown of glycogen to make glucose and by making new glucose.

Following prolonged fasting of up to 12–36 hours, the liver gets exhausted with producing glucose. And the liver produces what are called ketone bodies from fat.

Certain cells in the brain also produce ketones. Thus ketones from the liver and the brain are then used as energy source in the brain. But there are few parts of the brain that still requires glucose as fuel.

Strengthening brain cells:

Apart from being an energy source, fasting also strengths brain cells.

In the hippocampal and cortical brain regions, ketones are important in regulating brain cell functions. It stimulates the making and survival of brain cells at these brain areas.

Ketones also make brain connections stronger and resistant to injuries and diseases.

Reduces brain firing:

Ketones reduce the brain cells firing by reducing their excitability, thus stabilizing the brain cells. It also increases the amino acid called glutathione, which also helps in stabilizing brain cells.

Effects on neurotransmitters:

The level of the neurotransmitter Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is increased during fasting. Another neurotransmitters, dopamine is also increased.

Ketones effects on dementia:

Ketones protects against deposition of beta amyloids:

It has been proved that ketone bodies protects the brain against the deposition of beta amyloids in the brain. Beta amyloid plagues are seen in a brain degenerative disorder called Alzheimer disease.

Increase in antioxidants:

Antioxidants like uric acid are increased during fasting. These help fight free radicals which are harmful to the brain and body.

Caloric restrictions and Mediterranean diet.

These produce the same effects on the brain as fasting and utilizing ketones does without the fast.

Is fasting safe?

The safety of fasting depends on the intensity of a fast. Intensity of a fasting period varies from the complete omission of all food and drink to a minimal intake of specific meals.

Fasting that omits water are more likely to cause dehydration, which isn’t good for the health of the individual. This is more probable when the fasting period is prolonged, exceeding 24 hours. Dehydration can shut down body organs.

Water only fast will permit the intake of water and other fluids like tea, coffee, juice, etc. But it will not permit the intake of solid foods. For those who practice water only fasts should endeavor to take multivitamins, since they can obtain energy from other drinks.

Intermittent fasting is a two edged sword. With all its positive effects, too much ketones will be detrimental to health.

So out of all the different types of fasting, the safest methods are caloric restrictions and the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has a low capacity to increase the blood sugar and has a high satiating effect. This is unlike other fasting methods that make the individual hungry.

Caloric restriction and the Mediterranean diet ensure that hydration and adequate nutrients are maintained. Yet, they are able to give all the health effects provided by intermittent fasting.

What are the effects of fasting on mental health in Nigeria and globally?

From the effects fasting and food abstinence have on the brain, they all have positive effects on mental health. All these can reduce depression and anxiety, via their effects on the weight, the brain and religious matters.

In neurological issues such as epilepsy and dementia, fasting, abstinence and food reduction have been used in treatment of these. Fasting has been shown to improve memory as well.

But unfortunately, not everyone benefits from fasting. For some people, intermittent fasting can affect their moods. This is because during fasting the blood sugar level drops and cortisol, a stress hormone increases. Restricting food can also affect the level of serotonin in the brain.

People suffering from eating disorder and those suffering from mental illness do not benefit from intermittent fasting. It acts as a stressor to make their illness reoccur or get worse. Fasting can also lead to anger and irritability.

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