Ramadan and diabetes: being safe during the holy month

The holy month of Ramadan started last Friday and culminates with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. Although fasting is an integral part of adherence, people with diabetes are not always advised to engage in this practice.

Dietitian Safiyyah Islam of the Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago (DATT) has offered advice to Muslims who are unsure whether or not fasting is recommended due to their blood sugar levels and general health about their diabetes.

Islam holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and Dietetics and a Degree in Institutional and Community Dietetics and Nutrition, and focuses on improving the health of her clients by influencing healthy food choices and physical fitness.

“The answer depends on many factors, including your medication regimens, your overall health, but most importantly, how you take care of your diabetes,” Islam said.

She used the simple exercise below for people living with diabetes to find out if their current condition would allow them to participate in this aspect of religious observance.

Raise your finger if the following applies to you:

  • Your blood sugar is not well controlled and your HbA1c exceeds 7%
  • You are currently taking medication for diabetes

Raise two fingers if the following conditions apply to you:

  • You take insulin injections
  • Your blood sugar drops below acceptable levels (below 80 mg/dL), which makes you feel weak or nervous
  • You have a diabetes-related complication, such as kidney or heart disease, or eye damage

Raise three fingers if the following conditions apply to you:

  • You have recently seen a doctor or been admitted to hospital with blood sugar levels that were too high or too low in the past year

If you find yourself holding four or more fingers, it could mean that fasting could put you at serious risk of hypoglycemia – dangerously low blood sugar levels – or diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – a life-threatening condition that occurs when your your body does not produce enough insulin for your cells to use your blood sugar for energy. Islam advises that in these cases you should talk to your doctor before fasting.

If you raise two or three fingers, it indicates that you are at moderate risk if you fast. Islam recommends that you “fast with caution,” regularly monitoring your habits to prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low.

If you have only one finger or no raised finger, you are at low risk for the above complications and although fasting should not trigger any problems, you should remember to take your medications as directed and monitor your blood sugar throughout the day.

Islam added that pregnant women with diabetes should refrain from fasting altogether, as they can put themselves and their children at risk.

She encouraged people concerned about fasting with diabetes and HbA1c testing to call (868) 607-3288 for more information.

The Association offers free nutritional counseling on Wednesdays at its Chaguanas branch on Success Street.

Watch the first mini-episode of the DATT series, Diabetes and Ramadanhere and follow the Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago through its instagram and Facebook pages for more tips on fasting with diabetes during Ramadan and general diabetes information.

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