Ketones and Consciousness
… Fasting is useful as atoning for and preventing sin, and as raising the mind to spiritual things. And everyone is bound by the natural dictate of reason to practice fasting as far as it is necessary for these purposes. [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica].
How do we remove the obstacles blocking our view of true reality? How do we limit the influence of technology and media on our mind? Is there a way to increase our focus on the Divine?
The heightened spiritual consciousness experienced by a fasting person is recognized in every major religion and, indirectly, by science. The unique perspective produced by fasting’s ketonic energy reflects the physical weakness of the body and a heightened awareness of Divine Reality.
What, then! you will say, are we all inspired? Yes, doubtless; but not as were the prophets and apostles. Without the actual inspiration of the Spirit of grace, we could neither do, nor will, nor believe any good thing. We are, then, always inspired, but we incessantly stifle the inspiration. [Francois Fenelon, Spiritual Progress, p. 55].
Fasting and the Brain
Ketosis is the condition during fasting where the body switches from glucose to ketone bodies for fuel. When the body metabolizes ketone bodies during ketosis, it generates elevated levels of ketones, which are detectable in the breath, urine, and blood. Ketone urine testing strips test for ketones in urine.
With ketone bodies as fuel, the brain may not experience the normal metabolic reactions it does when on a standard diet. Electrical impulses produced by ketone bodies may differ from those produced by glucose.
In comparison with glucose, the ketone bodies are a very good respiratory fuel. Whereas 100 g of glucose generates 8.7 kg of ATP, 100 g of 3-hydroxybutyrate can yield 10.5 kg of ATP, and 100 g of acetoacetate 9.4 kg of ATP . The brain will use ketone bodies whenever provided with them (i.e., whenever blood ketone body levels rise). [Anssi H Manninen, Metabolic Effects of the Very-Low-Carbohydrate Diets: Misunderstood “Villains” of Human Metabolism].
Ketones: The Fragrance of Fasting
In the brain, the ketone bodies are used in the energy producing Krebs cycle. This process is very efficient and more ketone bodies are produced than can be utilized by the body for fuel.
The excess ketones are excreted in the breath and urine. The noticeable odor of a faster’s breath is a byproduct of ketosis and, to an extent, a measure of the degree of our fasting.
When the rate of production of acetoacetate and β-hydroxybutyrate exceeds the rate of their utilization, the result is ketosis. Under these conditions, acetone, a spontaneous breakdown product of acetoacetate, accumulates and becomes noticeable as “acetone breath”. [Jeff D Cronk, Gonzaga University, BIOCHEMISTRY Dictionary].
Our congested cavities echo the braying emanating from putrid thoughts. As we gorge on earthly knowledge from message boards, mundane news and office gossip, a stench forms on our breath that we spew regularly.
By contrast, what we partake of spiritual nourishment remains as scent on our breath to the Day of Judgment for the fragrance of a fasting mouth is as perfume to God:
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is more fragrant to Allah [God] than the fragrance of musk.” [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 115].
The Mellowed Brain
The body reflects the altered metabolic condition produced by the energy of ketone bodies. The fast dispels self-centeredness and egotism as we humbly plead for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Our primary attitude while fasting becomes submission. With the glucose levels of a standard diet reduced, pride or arrogance have little to sustain them. The restraining bit of fasting in our mouth provides the discipline necessary for enhancing God-consciousness.
Fasting MELLOWS a man and enhances his character, giving jolt to the human instincts of ‘PRIDE, HAUGHTINESS, ENVY and AMBITION, for when fasting, a man’s energies are too sapped to follow these instincts which are the chief causes of discord and conflict among men. [Marhum Ahmed Sheriff Dewji].
Mind Your Synapses
Piety and its effect on our metabolism are not easily measured or controlled. Our thoughts may often be just a few synapses away from egotism, pride and delusion. When we fast for God, our intention establishes the goal. Our mind sets out to attain an altered state of consciousness that opens the soul to the Divine.
Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God. [Pope Benedict XVI].
When we harbor negative emotions, we hardened hearts. When we excessively indulge in worldly matters, we transform whims into passions, pleasure into lust, and pastimes into addiction.
There is nothing more harmful to the believer’s heart than having too much food, for it brings about two things; hardness of heart and arousal of desires. Hunger is a condiment for believers, nourishment for the spirit, food for the heart, and health for the body. The Holy Prophet said, ‘The son of Adam fills no worse vessel than his belly.’ [Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, Lantern of the Path, Section 34].
Spiritual fasting emerges from an emotional condition produced by sincere faith. Having abandon our prodigal lifestyle, we rush with fervent enthusiasm to restore our relationship with God.
The fasting prescribed by the religion is to abstain from eating and drinking and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset, while spiritual fasting is, in addition, to protect all the senses and thoughts from all that is unlawful. It is to abandon all that is disharmonious, inwardly as well as outwardly. The slightest breach of that intention breaks the fast. Religious fasting is limited by time, while spiritual fasting is forever and lasts throughout one’s temporal and eternal life. This is true fasting. [Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, Spiritual Fasting].
Spiritual energy produces spiritual thoughts. It is the energy found in sacred places, in majestic scenes from nature, in Scripture — and in fasting. It is the Divine energy that calls us to reflect on our existence and proclaim, “Praise God!”
And whoever does more good than he is bound to do, it is better for him; for to fast is better for you – if you only knew. [Quran – 2:184].