Unani Medicine (also called TIBB E UNANI) is a traditional system of medicine originated in Greece, influenced by the ancient science of Ayurveda and became part of traditional Arabic and Islamic medicine. It got fame during Mughal Empire in India and now famous among people in India, Pakistan, several parts of Central Asia and South Asia.
Unani Medicine is an ancient system of medicine that is believed to have originated in the Perso-Arabic regions dating back almost 5000 years. Today, the Unani system, with its recognized practitioners, research and educational institutions, and hospitals, forms an important part of the healthcare delivery system in several countries, especially in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
It was widely practiced in the Mughal India and some regions of the South Asia. It is also popular in the modern-day Central Asia. The meaning of the term ‘Unani’ is medicines that are the symbol of a healthy life. This system derives its name from the Arabic word, ‘YUNANI” , which originated from the Greek word ‘IONIAN’ in the Greece, as the principles and concept of this Perso-Arabic system were, in turn, derived from the teachings of Galen and Hippocrates, the great Greek physicians during those times.
This system owes its current form to the Arabs as they saved the Greek literature and rendered it to the Arabs and also enriched this system with their own contributions by making extensive use of their knowledge of Anatomy, Physiology, Chemistry, Physics, Botany, Pathology, Surgery, and Therapeutics.
It is also called the ‘Tibb-E-Unani’. This term is derived from the word ‘Tibb’ which means the knowledge of the state of a human body while in health and during the decline of health. Unani means symbol of life.
However, it is also largely influenced by the Chinese and Indian traditional healing systems.
Unani medicine strives to find the best methods to help humans lead a healthy life with minimal or zero risks of any sickness. It prescribes diet, drinks, drugs, and some other regiments such as the code of conduct that is favorable for the maintenance and promotion of health for the prevention and treatment of diseases. The ultimate goal of this system is the creation of a healthy society through scientific prescriptions.
Introduction of Unani system of Medicine in India
The Unani System has an impressive and encouraging record in India. It was introduced in this country by the Persians and Arabs around the eleventh century. India, today, is one of the leading countries having the largest number of Unani educational, healthcare and research institutions.
It was the ancient rulers in the north India who provided patronage to the experts of Unani System and enrolled some scholars as court physicians to help this system develop in the country. Today, Unani Medicine is enriched by imbibing the best from the contemporary systems of traditional medicines in the Syria, Egypt, Iraq, India, Persia, China and other Middle East countries.
Basic Theory of Unani Medicine
The theoretical framework of Unani Medicine was introduced by Greek physician Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC), then enriched by Galen (131 – 210 AD), Rhazes (850 – 925 AD) and Avicenna (980 – 1037 AD).
Unani Medicine is based on Hippocratic Theory of Medicine established in Greece by Hippocrates, who believes in four basic elements, also called ‘ANASIR-E-ARBA’.
The Unani Medicine system is based on the principle of the four-humor concept of Hippocrates. It presupposes the presence of four humors: blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile in the body. Unani Medicine believes four humors (four Dosha) in the body, which when are in balance, a person is healthy and which when getting imbalance, a person suffers from the disease. The Hellenistic origin of this system is visible in the fact that it’s based on the classical theory of four humors. These basic elements in different combinations or permutations build basic four biological constituents called AKHLAT (humours).
The blood dominates in these humours and other humors depend on it.
The state of balance in four humours is called health and imbalanced state of these humours is called disease.
The goal of Unani Medicine is to achieve the healthy state of individual by balancing these four humours in the body. Unani treatment is based on this principle and it treats the person as a whole, not only the disease.
UMOOR E TABAIYA (Fundamentals of Physique)
It believes that the human body is made of seven components including ARKAN (Elements), MIZAJ (Temperament), AKHLAT (Humors), AAZA (Organs), ARWAH (Spirits), QUWA (Faculties), and AFAAL (Functions). These components can be described as follows.
The body consists of 7 basic components, which are called UMOOR E TABAIYA (Fundamentals of Physique):
|AAZA||Parts of body or organs|
|QUWA||Faculty of power|
|ARWAH (ARVAH)||Soul or Vital forces|
The balance of these components is the health and imbalance of these components cause disease. The loss of these components can cause disability or lead to death.
The human body is composed of four elements, which are air, earth, water and fire, each of these having its own temperament. The temperament of air is described as hot and moist while that of the earth is cold and dry. The fire has a hot and dry temperament and water has the moist and cold temperament.
The Unani system gives high importance to the temperament of the individual while treating any disease. It considers that the temperament of every individual is unique to him or her. The temperament is based on or develops due to the interaction of the 5 elements. The temperament is considered real equitable when the elements are in equal quantities. However, this is an ideal state of a human body, which does not exist. The temperament is considered equitable when there is a presence of the required and just amounts of compatible temperaments. The temperament is considered inequitable when there is an absence of proper distribution of the temperament according to the requirement of the human body.
Humors are the fluid or moist components of the body that are produced after metabolism and the transformation of 4 elements. The humors perform various functions in the body such as maintaining the nutrition, promoting growth and repair and producing energy, all of which allow for the preservation of the health of an individual. These humors are responsible for maintaining moisture in different organs and tissues and provide nutrition to the body through 4 stages of digestion as given below:
- Gastric digestion: In this stage, the food is turned into chyle and chyme and carried to the liver by the mesenteric veins.
- Hepatic digestion: in this stage, the chyle is converted into the four humors in different quantities, with that of the blood being the highest. The blood that leaves the liver is mixed with the other humors: phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile.
- Vessels: The humors flow through the blood vessels supplying blood to all the organs and tissues as they absorb the nutrition from the blood. The tissues obtain this nutrition from the blood by its attractive power and are able to retain it by its retentive power.
- Tissue digestion: Later, the digestive and assimilative powers of the body convert it into tissues. The tissues use their expulsive power to excrete the waste material in the humor.
According to the Unani Medicine, any disturbance in the equilibrium of these humors results in the initiation and progress of a disease. Hence, the treatment must be aimed at restoring this equilibrium.
The body is composed of several organs. The health or diseased state of each organ affects the equilibrium in the entire body resulting in the loss of a healthy state for the person as a whole.
Spirit or RUH is a gaseous substance that is obtained from the air we breathe. It is essential for the normal functions of the organs and for performing metabolic activities in the body. It burns AKHLAT LATIFAH in order to produce QUWA (faculties or powers). Hence, it is considered the source of energy and vitality for the body. These are considered the life force and hence, are of prime importance for the diagnosis and treatment of any disease. These are considered as carriers of different powers that form the entire body system and make its individual parts functional.
These are the three forms of power:
1. QUWA TABIYAH
It is the natural power that is released during the process of metabolism and reproduction. This power is largely released in the liver. It is also released by the other tissue of the body in small amounts. Metabolism includes several processes that ensure proper nutrition and growth of the human body. It obtains its nutrition from the food, which is carried to all parts of the body. The growth power helps in the regeneration and growth of the human body.
2. QUWA NAFSANIYAH
It is the Psychic or nervous power. It is located in the brain and responsible for the motor and perceptive abilities of a person. The perceptive power conveys the sensations and impressions while the motive power helps in the movements of the body in response to the sensations.
3. QUWA HAYWANIYAH
It is the vital power that is responsible for the survival of life. This power is located in the heart. It enables the organs to recognize and accept the effects of psychic power. It keeps the life running in the cells and tissues.
AFAAL (Functions) refers to the functions and movement of all organs in the body. In a healthy body, all the organs are in a proper shape or without any structural abnormality and perform their respective functions in an efficient manner.
Hence, according to the Unani system, health refers to the state of a human body in which all its functions are carried out in a normal way while the disease is the state in which one or more forms of the organs are abnormal or at fault.
Diagnosis in the Unani system
The Diagnosis of an illness in the Unani system is dependent on the observation and physical examination. It believes that any illness is a product of the following factors:
- The materials the person is made of
- The temperament of the person
- The structure and strength of his faculties
The different forms of factors operating on him from outside
Based on the interaction between these factors, the nature and the cause of illness are determined and an appropriate treatment plan is devised. The diagnosis involves determining the causes of disease, which can be achieved by the Pulse (NABZ) reading and the examination of stool and urine. The other conventional means of examination of a patient such as inspection, palpation, percussion and auscultation are also used for the purpose of diagnosis.
Prevention of Disease
Unani system of medicine stresses on the importance of prevention of diseases. It recognizes the influence of the environment and lifestyle habits of the patients on the state of his health. It emphasizes the need for keeping water, air, and food free from impurities or pollutants. It proposes six essentials pre-requisites or ASBAB SITTA E ZARORIAYAH for the promotion of health and prevention of diseases, which include:
It proposes that clean and good air is necessary for preventing diseases and maintaining health. The system emphasizes the need for well-ventilated houses. It believes that a positive change in the environment can relieve the patients of many diseases.
Eating fresh foods that are free from disease-producing matter like germs and putrefaction can help to prevent diseases. The system strongly supports the need for keeping the water free from impurities. Dirty water is considered a carrier of infective diseases.
Psychic movement and repose
Physical activities, as well as proper rest, are considered essential for maintaining the health. Exercises help to stimulate the growth of muscles and ensure optimum nutrition. It maintains the health of the heart and liver. It also increases the blood supply and ensures proper functioning of the excretory system.
Bodily movement and repose
The system recognizes the impact of psychological factors including the positive emotions like happiness and negative emotions like anger and sorrow on the health of a person.
Sleep and wakefulness
It considers maintaining the sleep and wakefulness cycle essential for good health. Sleep provides physical and mental rest. The lack of sound sleep can cause mental weakness, dissipation of energy, and digestive disturbances.
Evacuation and retention
An optimum functioning of the excretory organs is necessary for maintaining the health. Accumulation of waste products in the body can lead to a sickness.
Treatment in the Unani system
The treatment in Unani Medicine is based on the holistic approach. It considers the entire personality of the patient including his physique, structure, make-up, reaction to the environmental factors, defense mechanism, and likes and dislikes. Unani Medicine includes the following types of treatment:
Regimental Therapy (ILAJ-BIL-TADBIR)
Regimental therapy involves special technique and physical methods aimed at improving and stabilizing the constitution of the body. It involves removing the waste materials and improving the immunity or the defense mechanisms of the body to protect health. It is a form of a detoxification therapy. Some of the important techniques in the regimental therapy include:
- Venesection (FASD)
- Cupping (AL-HIJAMA)
- Sweating (TAREEQ)
- Diuresis (IDRAR-E- BAUL)
- Turkish bath (HAMAM)
Diet therapy (ILAJ-BIL-GHIZA)
Food plays an important role in the treatment of Unani system. It believes that several ailments can be treated by just regulating the quantity and quality of food. The foods are categorized as laxative, diuretic or diaphoretic and these properties are used for the treatment of diseases. It also proposes special diets for specific diseases.
This form of treatment involves the use of medications prepared mainly from natural ingredients such as herbs, and the substances of mineral and animal origin. It uses only the natural ingredients for preparing medicines as they are easily available in the local regions and safe for the human body. It presupposes that the natural ingredients have their own temperament and prescribing a medicine that goes well with the temperament of the person can help to accelerate the process of healing.
The medicines are classified into four classes based on their temperament. The different forms of medications used in the Unani system include:
- Arq (Distillate)
- Habb (Unani Pill)
- Labub (Laboob)
- Majun (Electuaries)
- Marham (Unani Ointment)
- Sharbat (Unani)
Although the Unani Medicine is considered the pioneer in the field of surgery, its use is limited in this system. It has developed its own techniques and instruments for performing surgeries.
Basic Terminology in Unani Medicine
|Unani Terms||Meaning in English|
|UMOOR E TABAIYA||Fundamentals of Physique|
|ARVAH||Soul or Vital forces|
|QUWA||Faculty of power|
|AAZA||Parts of body|