On May 16, Waterloo Pharmacy hosted a public lecture on Ramadan and health, inviting those who celebrate Ramadan and those who provide healthcare services to learn how the religious celebration can impact health. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins at the end of May this year. Approximately 4% of people in Waterloo Region are Muslims and most of them will observe Ramadan at this time.
Professor Wasem Alsabbagh began the lecture by describing what Ramadan is and the various ways it affects health. Ramadan is a time of charity, prayer, and fasting for Muslims. Fasting takes place between Suhoor, the morning meal that occurs before sunrise, and Iftar, the evening meal which occurs after sunset. Ramadan’s timing varies depending on the lunar calendar, and when it falls in the summer the fast can last as long as 17 hours.
During this time, participants abstain from consuming anything orally. This includes medications that have to be swallowed. Professor Alsabbagh and family physician Mohamed Alarakhia addressed this concern, telling the audience that medications can be adjusted to accommodate fasting. They also stressed that children and those who are sick, pregnant, menstruating, or travelling are exempt from fasting. However, Ramadan is a tradition that is dear to many, and participants may choose to fast even if they fit in one of these categories.
“Often patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension choose to fast for Ramadan even though they are exempt,” says Professor Alsabbagh, who is also a community pharmacist. “We want to encourage both healthcare providers and patients to have open discussions about Ramadan and the impact it can have on their health.”
The speakers suggested that people observing Ramadan have a discussion with their pharmacist or primary-care provider before the holy month begins. Bearing in mind the principle of “first, do no harm,” they can have open conversations about if fasting is the safest choice or if it is safer that participants observe in other ways, such as offering charity or moving the fast to a time of year when the fasting period is shorter.
Following Alsabbagh and Alarakhia, Professor Kelly Grindrod and Dietetic Intern Brittaney Berendsen shared a variety of resources. Berendsen developed a nutrition infographic and summarized optimal meal plans for Suhoor, Iftar, and the other snacking opportunities participants have. Grindrod expanded on the services pharmacists in particular can offer to accommodate fasting patients.
The speakers closed with responding to questions from the audience and by sharing the Waterloo Pharmacy Ramadan and health resource page. This page includes resources designed by the speakers and brings together additional information on this topic for both the public and healthcare providers.