Amidst the anticipation and preparation for Ramadan, the Australian Islamic Medical Association (AIMA) organised two enlightening online webinars titled ‘Ramadan Health Talks.’

These sessions delved into the intricacies of health strategies tailored for Ramadan.

Held just before the commencement of Ramadan, these webinars offered a wealth of insights and practical guidance from Muslim medical professionals.

With topics ranging from nutrition and gastrointestinal health to diabetes management and mental well-being, these webinars aimed to equip participants with the knowledge and tools necessary to maintain optimal health throughout the fasting period.

The first webinar, held on Saturday 2 March 2024 was livestreamed to facebook where it was watched live by many across Australia.   Speakers discussed nutrition, Gastrointestinal health and cognitive enhancement techniques during Ramadan.

Dr Sufyan Akram

The moderator Dr Sufyan Akram started the webinar by welcoming all who joined on Zoom and Facebook. Dr Muhammad Shakib Rahman followed with the recitation of the Quran.

The first speaker, Zeenia Gul, a health coach and dietitian, provided comprehensive guidance on making healthier dietary choices during Suhoor and Iftar, emphasising the importance of addressing common nutritional concerns.

She highlighted the prevalence of inadequate protein intake, low fibre consumption, fatigue, dehydration, and alterations in bowel movements during Ramadan.

Zeenia Gul

Ms Gul underscored the foundational role of macronutrients in sustaining energy levels and overall well-being, advocating for a strategic approach to food selection.

She stressed the necessity of not skipping the pre-dawn meal and stressed the significance of planning. She cautioned against consuming foods that could cause digestive discomfort, such as caffeine, oily, or spicy dishes.

Ms Gul emphasised the satiating properties of proteins and recommended opting for low glycemic index (GI) and high fibre fruits to promote sustained energy levels.

Ms Gul advised breaking the fast with dates (1 or 3 as odd numbers are sunnah and preferably not more than that) and fluids such as soup, milk or water, followed by a brief interval for prayer to promote mindful eating.

She introduced the concept of the healthy plate model to ensure balanced nutrition intake, emphasizing the importance of consuming meals slowly, a practice attributed to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (s).

Ms Gul also provided recommendations for preventing common digestive issues such as constipation and reflux, emphasising the importance of adequate hydration with water or alternatives like coconut water and decaffeinated beverages.

The second speaker, Dr Mostafa Seleem, an Interventional Gastroenterologist, discussed Ramadan’s impact on gastrointestinal and liver health.

He started by acknowledging the food scarcity in Gaza and how it is life-threatening for civilians to get food with risks of being shot and then highlighted fasting’s spiritual significance beyond health benefits.

Dr Mostafa Seleem

While research on Ramadan’s effects on conditions like reflux disease is limited, he advised caution with spicy foods and caffeine. Contrary to belief, peptic ulcer disease risk doesn’t rise during Ramadan.

Ramadan fasting doesn’t exacerbate inflammatory bowel disease and may even benefit those in remission. Mild liver conditions show no significant change during fasting, with potential improvements in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, advanced liver diseases like cirrhosis pose risks.

Dr Seleem urged further research and Muslim practitioners’ deeper understanding of Ramadan’s health implications to enhance patient care.

The third speaker,

Dr Omer Shareef

, Neuropsychiatrist spoke the importance of preparation and planning for Ramadan.

He said “the planning begins in Rajab and preparation starts in Shaban and the perfection that’s been that first day of Ramadan or the night before Ramadan.”

Dr Shareef clarified the true meaning of fasting as abstinence, which goes beyond the physical act to include a spiritual dimension, emphasising its role in nourishing the soul.

He explained the neuropsychiatric benefits of fasting, describing Ramadan as a “natural neurotrophic” that enhances cognitive functions and promotes neuroplasticity, thereby protecting against cognitive decline.

Dr Shareef also discussed the broader impacts of Ramadan on personal development, including generosity, as exemplified by significant charitable donations, and the various psychological benefits of Ramdan in developing self-restraint and patience and improving resilience.

The second webinar was held on Saturday 9 March 2024 where it was also livestreamed with viewers from all around Australia. Speakers discussed diabetes management, women health and older person health.

Dr Saadiah Goolam

The webinar was opened with a Quran recitation from Noor and was followed by the moderator Dr Saadiah Goolam who introduced the speakers.

The first speaker Dr Fatima Ashrafi, a Senior Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist, spoke about women’s health during Ramadan.

Dr Ashrafi stressed the significance of healthy eating and nutrition during pregnancy for both the mother and the growing baby. Pregnant women are exempted from mandatory fasting during Ramadan.

Dr Fatima Ashrafi

For pregnant women with conditions like diabetes, fasting can exacerbate metabolic issues and pose risks to both the mother and the baby. Dr Ashrafi advised against fasting for pregnant women with complications such as multiple gestation or pre-eclampsia.

Regarding breastfeeding during fasting, Dr Ashrafi advised consulting healthcare professionals before Ramadan to assess the risks and make informed decisions.

Dr Ashrafi also addressed postnatal bleeding and menstrual periods during Ramadan, emphasising that women are forbidden to fast during these times She discussed the option of delaying menstrual periods under medical supervision.

Regarding mental health, Dr Ashrafi acknowledged the challenges faced by working women during Ramadan and advised practising fasting each lunar month, prioritising tasks in Ramadan, taking care of themselves before others and asking for cooperation from other family members.

The second speaker, Dr Elhassan Elabbas, a Geriatrician & General Medicine physician, emphasised the importance of healthy aging and positive aging, particularly for elderly individuals.

He discusses the health benefits of Ramadan fasting but also advises when fasting may not be suitable. Elderly individuals facing difficulty fasting are exempt and can pay fidyah instead.

Dr Elhassan Elabbas

Dr Elabbas underscores the significance of staying active and maintaining a balanced diet, highlighting the risks of not doing so, such as muscle loss and brittle bones.

He stresses the importance of socialising and choosing the right environment for elderly Muslims, advocating for physical activity and community engagement, such as walking to the mosque instead of driving to promote agility and exercise.

Additionally, he promotes lifelong learning and seeking knowledge, explaining the philosophy of continuous growth in Islam.

Dr Elabbas mentions the benefits of fasting, including controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, and suggests reflection during fasting. He outlines conditions that may exempt individuals from fasting, such as chronic illnesses requiring ongoing treatment.

Dr Elabbas concludes by urging elderly individuals to prioritise their health and consult Muslim health professionals for advice.

The third speaker, Dr Rabbia Haider, an endocrinologist, discussed diabetes management during Ramadan, highlighting the physiological changes that occur during fasting.

She reiterated the benefits of fasting, including potential weight loss and spiritual benefits, but also pointed out the risks for individuals with diabetes.

Dr Rabbia Haider

According to Dr Haider, “So it’s a very special time of the year, although there are risks of fasting. So particularly in individuals with diabetes who are fasting during Ramadan, the main risks are things such as high pressure and hypoglycemia, dehydration and thrombosis.”

She cited studies showing a significant increase in severe hypoglycemia during Ramadan for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients.

Dr Haider stressed the importance of pre-Ramadan counselling and regular monitoring during fasting hours, as well as adjusting medications to ensure safety.

She underscored the significance of healthcare professionals understanding and accommodating religious practices while prioritising patient health.

Both webinars were followed by robust questions which speakers answered.

To watch the recordings of the webinars, please visit facebook.com/aimamed/videos