Introduction to Unani Medicine

By Dr. Regina Antony
Unani medicine refers to an ancient science of medicine, which is based on the teachings of Greek physician Hippocrates and Roman physician Galen which developed into a medical system in middle age by Arabian and Persian physicians, such as Al-Razi, Ibn-e- Sina, Al-Zahrawi, and Ibn Nafis.


It originated in Greece almost 2500 years back. This system makes use of medicines which are herbal, animal and mineral in origin.

Unani school of thought deals with various states of health and disease. It provides promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative healthcare. Temperament (Mizaj) of a patient is given great importance in diagnosis and treatment of diseases. 

Ibn-e- Sina popularly known as Avicenna, one of the greatest scholars of Unani medicine, has defined Unani Medicine as “It is the science in which we learn various states of body in health and when not in health and the means by which health is likely to be lost and when lost, is likely to be restored”.

The Unani System of Medicine offers treatment of diseases related to all the systems and organs of the human body. The treatments for chronic ailments, skin disorders, liver, musculo-skeletal and reproductive systems, immunological and lifestyle disorders have been found to be highly effective and acceptable. The use of aphrodisiacs, organ-specific tonics and immune-modulator drugs, temperament specific drugs and purgatives etc are unique features of Unani System of Medicine. Cosmeceutics, Nutraceutics, Aromatics and corresponding therapies are important parts of treatment in Unani System of Medicine.

Specific dietary regimens are recommended according to the patient’s temperament. Proper diets produce good humours while improper diet produces bad humours. Thus, humoral imbalance can be corrected by medication coupled with proper diet. The physician prescribes drugs according to the temperament of patient, causative humour, faculty of organ involved and severity of the disease.

It is presently practised in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia, Central Asian and Middle Eastern Countries. In India the system has been developed and systematically integrated into healthcare system over the years.

Principles and concepts of Unani

The basic theory of Unani system is based upon the four – humour theory of Hippocrates.
The four humours are –
Yellow bile and
Black bile.

The human body is considered to be made up of the following seven components:

Arkan (Elements)
The human body contains four elements –

Mizaj (Temperament)
In the Unani system, the temperament of an individual is very important as it is considered to be unique. An individual’s temperament is believed to be the result of interaction of the elements. 

Akhlat (Humours)
Humours are fluids which are produced after transformation and metabolism of food; they serve the function of nutrition, growth and repair and produce energy. When any disturbance occurs in the equilibrium of the humour, diseases occur. The treatment, therefore, aims at restoring the equilibrium of humours.

Aaza (Organs)
Unani explains various organs of the human body. The health or disease of each individual organ affects the state of health of the whole body.

Arwah (Spirits)
These are considered to be the life force and are, therefore, important in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. These are the carriers of different powers, which make the whole body system and its parts functional.

Quwa (Faculties)
These are three kinds of powers:Quwa Tabiyah or the power of metabolism and reproduction
Quwa Nafsaniyah or Psychic power
Quwa Haywaniyah or Vital power

Afaal (Functions)
This component refers to the movements and functions of all the organs of the body. In case of a healthy body the various organs are not only in proper shape but are also performing their respective functions. This makes it necessary to have full knowledge of the functions of the human body in full detail.

Prevention of diseases

Six essentials pre-requisites (Asbab Sitta e Zaroriayah) have been mentioned for the promotion of health and prevention of disease. These are:
Food and drinks
Bodily movement and repose
Psychic movement and repose
Sleep and wakefulness
Evacuation and retention

Regimental therapy (Ilaj-bil-Tadbir)
Regimental therapies are special techniques / physical methods of treatment to improve the constitution of body by removing waste materials and improving the defence mechanism of the body and protect health. 
They are –
Venesection – Fasd
Cupping – Al-hijama
Sweating – Tareeq
Diuresis – Idrar-e- baul
Turkish bath – Hamam
Massage – Dalk, Malish
Counter irritation
Cauterization – Amal-e-Kae
Purging – Ishal
Vomiting – Qai
Exercise – Riyazat
Leeching – Taleeq-e-Alaq

Dieto-therapy (Ilaj-bil-Ghiza)
In Unani treatment, food plays a key role. By regulating the quality and quantity of food, several ailments are treated successfully.

Pharmacotherapy (Ilaj-bil-Dawa)

This type of treatment involves the use of naturally occurring drugs which are mostly herbal in origin. Drugs of animals and mineral origin are also used. Unani medicine states that drugs also have their own temperament. Since in this system, emphasis is laid on the particular temperament of the individual, the medicines are administered such that it is similar to the temperament of the patient. Drugs are supposed to act by their temperament of being hot, cold, moist and dry. Drugs are used in the form of powders, decoctions, infusion, Jawarish, Majoon, Khamira, syrups and tablets etc. The system has set rules for prescribing alternative drugs.

Surgery (Ilaj-bil-Yad)
This branch of Unani system is of very limited use, although it is credited to be a pioneer in this field for having developed its own instruments and techniques. At present only minor surgeries are carried out in this system.

Unani system has become popular and is in use either independently or in integration with other systems of medicine. It is known, in different parts of the world, with different names such as Greco-Arab Medicine, Ionian Medicine, Arab Medicine, Islamic Medicine, Traditional Medicine, Oriental Medicine etc.

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