Unani System of Medicine

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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Alternative System of Medicine

Unani system of medicine is originated in Greece by the Greek philosopher, physician Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.), who freed medicine from the realm of superstition and magic, and gave it the status of science.



Unani system of medicine is originated in Greece by the Greek philosopher, physician Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.), who freed medicine from the realm of superstition and magic, and gave it the status of science. The theoretical framework of Unani medicine is based on the teachings of Hippocrates. After him, a number of other Greek scholars followed the system considerably. Among them Galen (131–212 A.D.) was the one to stabilize its foundation, on which Arab physicians like Raazes (850–925 A.D.) and Avicenna (980–1037 A.D.) constructed an imposing edifice. Unani medicine got its importance among the other systems of traditional medicine in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, India, China and other Middle East and Far East countries. In India, Arabs introduced Unani system of medicine, and soon it enriched in India. When Mongols ravaged Persian and central Asian cities, scholars and physicians of Unani medicine fled to India. The Delhi Sultans, the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs and the Mughal Emperors provided state patronage to the scholars and even enrolled some as state employees and court physicians. During the 13th and 17th century, Unani medicine was firmly rooted in India by Abu Bakr Bin Ali Usman Kasahani, Sadruddin Damashqui, Bahwabin Khwas Khan, Ali Geelani, Akabl Arzani and Mohammad Hoshim Alvi Khan.


Unani considers the human body to be made up of seven components. Arkan (elements), mizaj (temperaments), aklath (humours), anza (organs), arawh (spirits), Quo (faculties) and afal (functions), each of which has close relation to the state of health of an individual. A physician takes into account all these factors before diagnosing and prescribing treatment.


Unani medicine is based on the Greece philosophy. According to Basic Principles of Unani, the body is made up of the four basic elements, i.e. Earth, Air, Water and Fire, which have different Temperaments, i.e. Cold, Hot, Wet and Dry. After mixing and interaction of four ele-ments, a new compound having new temperament comes into existence, i.e. Hot Wet, Hot Dry, Cold Wet and Cold Dry. The body has the simple and compound organs, which got their nourishment through four humours, i.e. blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. The humour also assigned temperament as blood is, i.e. hot and wet; Phlegm is cold and hot, yellow bile is hot and dry and black bile is cold and dry. Health is a state of body in which there is equilibrium in the humours and functions of the body are normal in accordance to its own temperament and the environment.


When the equilibrium of the humours is disturbed and functions of the body are abnormal, in accordance to its own temperament and environment, that state is called disease. Unani medicine believes in promotion of health, prevention of diseases and cure. Health of human is based on the six essentials (Asbabe Sitta Zaroorya), if these are followed health is maintained; otherwise, there will be diseases.


Six essentials are atmospheric air, drinks and food, sleep and wakefulness, excretion and retention, physical activity and rest and mental activity and rest.




Diseases are mainly diagnosed with the help of pulse (nabz), physical examination of the urine and stool. Also, patients are examined systematically to make the diagnosis easy as spot diagnosis with the help of simple, modern gadgets.




Diseases are treated in the following ways:


1.           Ilajbil Tadbeer (Regimental Therapy): Some drugless regimens are advised for the treatment of certain ailments, i.e. exercise, massage, hamam (Turkish bath), Douches (Cold and Hot) and the Regimen for Geriatrics.


2.           Ilajbil Ghiza (Dietotherapy): Different diets are recom-mended for the patients of different diseases.


3.           Ilajbil Dava (Pharmaco therapy): The basic concept of treatment is to correct the cause of the disease that may be abnormal temperament due to:


·  Envirnmental factors


·  Abnormal humours either due to internal causes or external causes which may be pathogenic microorganism, through (a) drugs of opposite temperament to the temperament of the disease that is called Ilaj-bil-zid or (b) drugs of similar temperament as of the temperament of the disease that is called as Ilaj-bil-misl


4.           Ilajbil Yad (Surgery).


The drugs used are mostly of the plant origin. Some drugs of animal and mineral origin are also used. Patients are treated either by single drug (crude drugs) or by com-pound drugs (formulations of single drugs).


There are two types of compound drugs used in the treatment of the diseases, i.e. classical compound drugs which are in use for the hundreds and thousands years and patent/proprietary compound drugs which have been formulated by the individuals or institutions as per their research and experiences. Unani system of medicine is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world; it is still popular and practised in Indian subcontinent and other parts of the world.


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