In volume 135, issue 11 of Clinical Science, Alkhalefah et al. report that, in pregnant rats, repeated, cyclic fasting, mimicking the fasting experienced by observant Muslim pregnant women during Ramadan, alters placental amino acid transport and increases the incidence of low birth weight. Though Muslim women are exempt, many observe Ramadan: >500 million fetuses worldwide may be exposed to Ramadan fasting in each generation, and low birth weight increases the risk of developing chronic disease in the future adult. Several mechanisms, including altered circadian rhythm, maternal stress, undernutrition or compensatory overeating at the breaking of fast, could, in theory, impact fetal growth during Ramadan. Limitations of the experimental model obviously prevent direct extrapolation to humans. Whether Ramadan fasting indeed affect fetal growth therefore remains unclear, as there is no clear-cut evidence from epidemiological studies. The paper illustrates the need to design further case-controlled studies in large cohorts of women who fasted at various stages of pregnancy, compared to appropriately matched women who did not fast, as well as more experimental studies focused on this issue of public health relevance.

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