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Ramadan: Does fasting increase your chances of catching coronavirus?

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SBS Arabic24 speaks to a health expert about fasting during Ramadan and whether it affects your immune system.

Ramadan is the month in which Muslim people gather together more than any other month of the year, in various social events and religious activities.

However, social distancing restrictions imposed by the federal government to fight the spread of coronavirus have significantly changed the way Muslims will observe the holy month, its traditions, and spirituality.

However, the major element of the month is not affected, as most healthy Muslims will be able to fast and worship despite these social boundaries.

In Australia, Muslims will fast for around 12 hours while the sun is up. The fast is broken during Iftar, which is the first meal consumed when the sun has set.

Fasting requires abstinence from food and drink. 

But, does fasting increase the chance of getting coronavirus?

General practitioner Dr Sanaa Kanan tells SBS Arabic24 that there is no scientific evidence to prove that fasting suppresses the immune system.

However, this advice relates to healthy people who do not suffer from chronic diseases.

"People who suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, respiratory system, immunodeficiency diseases, etc, are the people who are most at risk of contracting infectious diseases such as the coronavirus," she says.

Dr Kanan advises people suffering from chronic diseases and pregnant women to be careful and consult their GP or their specialist to see if they should fast or not.

"These people can be affected if they fast during the month of Ramadan.

“But healthy people who do not suffer from any diseases related to lungs or immune system, there is no scientific study that proves that their fasting will reduce their immunity system efficiency to fight diseases. This advice includes people who follow the intermittent fasting diet.”

What about the dryness of the nose, mouth, and throat during fasting, will it increase the chance of infection?

Dr Kanan says that there is no scientific evidence again to prove that the dryness of this area may increase the possibility of infection with coronavirus.

"The recent recommendations from the World Health Organization confirm that there is no evidence to prove that dryness of these areas may increase the chance of contracting the coronavirus."

Also, she says that there is no scientific evidence to prove that gargling with water or mouthwash may protect against coronavirus infection or keep it away during fasting.

"Most of the people realise that gargling is permissible during Ramadan and there is no harm in doing so,” she adds.

"But what is more important than gargling, is maintaining the body hydration by drinking a lot of fluids, especially water, between the period of breakfast and Suhoor [sunrise].”

Dr Kanan advised people who plan to fast to refrain from drinking sugary and caffeinated drinks, such as soft drinks, tea, and coffee because it works to increase diuresis and body dehydration.

She recommends distributing the amount of water someone’s drink after breakfast for the body to benefit from it.

“The stomach at breakfast time would be in an idle state, so people must prepare it slowly to receive food, digest it, and distribute it to the entire body to benefit from it."

The World Health Organization published recommendations for eating healthy meals during the month of Ramadan.

Examples of breakfast:

  • Fresh vegetable soup (not ready soup powder)
  • Green salad or other vegetables of your choice
  • Stuffed vegetables (zucchini / eggplant / vine leaves)
  • Chicken breast cooked in the oven

Drink a large amount of water; you can add lemon slices and mint leaves to improve the taste.

Examples of Suhoor meal:

  • Two pieces of bread
  • scrambled egg with vegetables or a well-boiled egg
  • Chopped vegetables (two vegetables)
  • Labneh or cheese with thyme and olive oil
  • Herbal Tea

Don't forget to drink enough water.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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