Ramadan 2019: How to Deal with Periods During Ramadan Fasting

Muslim Woman
Stock image: Muslim woman in black clothing reading the Koran Getty Images

May 5 marks the start of Ramadan, which will see Muslims across the world reflect and honor the holy month.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are 3.45 million Muslims living in the U.S., which makes up 1.1 percent of the total population. The majority of these Muslims will be fasting to honor Ramadan.

However, there are some that do not fast during the holy month, including the sick and young children. But what about women who are on their period during Ramadan?

Are Women Allowed To Abstain From Fasting During Ramadan?

"Women on their periods are exempt from fasting and can make up the fasting days that they missed after Ramadan," Dr. Homayra Ziad, lecturer in Islamic studies at Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek. "People with medical conditions that prevent them from fasting have other ways to honor the month, including means that are laid out in Islamic law."

Instead of fasting from food and drink, some Muslims choose to feed the sick or help those who are vulnerable. Fasting isn't limited to food and drink either: Muslims should also abstain from sexual and immoral activities.

What Are The Health Implications Of Fasting During Ramadan?

"Menstruation temporarily increases a woman's daily iron losses which, along with childbirth, is why women have a greater risk of anemia," Dr. Kimberley O. O'Brien, Professor of Human Nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University and member of American Society of Nutrition (ASN), explained to Newsweek. "As our body iron stores are lowered the body makes less of a hormone called hepcidin. When hepcidin concentrations are low, more non-heme iron is absorbed from the diet and more iron is released from body iron stores. The increased iron losses of menstruation would lead to an increase in iron absorption if the body iron stores are depleted and the woman needed more iron."

There is also a concern around dehydration, especially for Muslims in warmer states such as Arizona, which can hit highs of 102 Fahrenheit in June.

"I would worry most about dehydration or developing low blood sugar," Dr. O'Brien told Newsweek. "Some women are more sensitive to low blood sugar than others and the risk of dehydration would increase in women that are more physically active or in warmer conditions where they may lose more water in perspiration."

What Can Women Do If They Wish To Fast During Ramadan While On Their Period?

According to Professor Harry J. McArdle, Honorary Professor of Biological Sciences at the U.K.'s University of Nottingham and a member of the ASN, women should focus more on what they consume before Ramadan, rather than during.

"The time between eating iron and its incorporation into hemoglobin has an extensive literature, with many studies showing improvement in iron biomarker values as much as four weeks of supplementation before showing improvement hemoglobin levels," he told Newsweek. "So the amount eaten during Ramadan is likely to be less important than that eaten before the fast period."

However, he raised the concern that women may binge eat outside of the fasting hours during Ramadan and this has more of an effect: "If the woman is eating too much, iron absorption may actually go down rather than increase."

So what can be done to maintain iron levels? "Eat sensibly and eat foods rich in iron for the rest of the year," advised Professor McArdle. "Follow nutrition guidelines and keep a healthy perspective on your diet.

"Also, and this is especially important if a woman is wearing full coverings, make sure that enough vitamin D and folate is consumed. If not, consider taking supplements."

What Should You Do If You're Concerned About Your Health During Ramadan?

This is something Dr. Ziad has to face when Ramadan comes: "[If I get] low blood sugar and dehydration I can get debilitating migraines so I have to honor Ramadan in other ways.

"I sometimes do 'half fasts'; I will cut out sugar and other things that I know are bad for my body and see this as a way to create better detox habits, I will create an additional devotional practice that helps me connect to God."

You can find out more about Ramadan by reading Newsweek's guide to the Holy Month - When Is Ramadan 2019? Muslims Set to Begin Holy Month of Fasting - or how to greet American Muslims between May 5 and June 4 - Ramadan 2019: Special Greetings and Wishes From American Muslims to Celebrate the Holy Month and Iftar.