DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Our family celebrates Ramadan, but my father was recently diagnosed with diabetes. He is very spiritual and would like to continue to fast during the holiday, but I don't think it's wise. Can you share whether he can safely fast or if he should avoid this practice due to his condition?
ANSWER: When you have diabetes, your diet is a vital part of your treatment plan. Patients with diabetes need to be more mindful about the foods they eat, and the details, such as calories, total carbohydrates, fiber, fat, salt and sugar. All of these could have the potential to affect their blood sugar levels.
Having a diabetes diagnosis does not take away from the desire to celebrate holidays, though. And while some people choose to not eat for a period of time, or fast, for religious reasons, such as from dawn to sunset during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, fasting is something that your father should not do without advance planning. I would recommend that you and your father talk with his health care provider about the specifics of his health and the details surrounding his desired fast.
There are potential risks of complications from fasting, such as low or high blood sugar and dehydration. Typically, a person with Type 2 diabetes that is well-controlled, who manages their diabetes with medications and lifestyles, may be OK fasting during Ramadan, so long as they can adjust their medications under the guidance of their care team.
However, there are individuals who may be at high risk of complications if they fast during Ramadan. These individuals would be those who have one or more of the following:
Type 1 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes with poor blood sugar control or taking certain types of insulin
Recent history of severe low blood sugar or diabetic ketoacidosis
History of recurring low blood sugar or unawareness of low blood sugar
Conditions such as severe kidney disease or blood vessel complications