The Philosophy behind Unani Medicine
Unani healing is a traditional form of medicine considered a complementary therapy that falls in the same realm as acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine and other forms of healing that exist outside the norms of Western medical science. Unani medicine is truly ancient, tracing its roots all the way back to Hippocrates. The name itself is of Greek origin even though the healing practices themselves are most commonly associated with India, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Slowly Western Medicine is starting to accept that some Unani practices have merit and can be adapted and incorporated into mainstream medical practices. This article provides more background on Unani medicine, the philosophy behind it and the potential modern applications.
As mentioned Unani medicine traces its root to Hippocrates. One of Hippocrates’ fundamental beliefs was that medical treatment should be as gentle and safe as possible. Unani medicine also follows that belief. For example, a practitioner of Unani medicine will not prescribe the strongest available medicine as the first course of treatment. Other gentler methods and life style changes will be suggested first.
Unani practitioners believe that disease happens when a body is out of balance. A Unani physician’s role is to help return the body to its normal balance. Humoral theory forms the basis for Unani knowledge. According to Humoral theory the body has four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile (see Table 1).When one or more of these humors dominates the others the body is said to be out of balance, causing illness.
Practitioners of Unani medicine also recognize seven factors influencing normal body function. They are the elements (earth, water, air and fire), temperament, the humors, the organs, vital breaths, energy and action. Each of the elements has special characteristics (see Table 2). Temperament is either balanced or imbalanced. Unani recognizes several different imbalanced temperaments. Every person is believed to be born with a unique and healthy humoral composition and balance which establishes an individual’s temperament.
A Unani practitioner carefully examines a patient’s pulse, feeling with sensitivity for any irregular or arrhythmic beats. He may also examine the urine and the stool. Some physicians will also take blood pressure and use a stethoscope to listen to a patient’s breathing and heart beats. Irregularities in heartbeat, urine, stool and breathing give the practitioner insight into which humor is creating the imbalance. Years of training allow the healer to prescribe an appropriate treatment.
Depending on what the healer observes he will recommend treatments such as cupping, Turkish bath, massage, exercise, leeching, specific dietary changes and food restrictions, rest, relaxation and sometimes drugs derived from plant and mineral sources.
|S.No.||Meaning||Nature of the Elements|
|1.||Yellow Bile||Hot and Dry like Fire|
|2.||Black Bile||Cold and Dry like Earth|
|3.||Blood||Hot and Moist like Air|
|4.||Phlegm||Cold and Moist like Water|
Uses of Unani therapy in Western Medicine: By and large Western medicine remains skeptical of complementary healing. A few bits of such traditional healing have made their way into conventional medicine, however. Unani medicine relies heavily on dietary changes and on herbal remedies. Western medicine is becoming more aware of, and accepting of, the healing properties of certain foods and herbs.
For example, flax seeds and flax seed oil are now commonly recommended. Berries are promoted for their strong antioxidant effects. Tomatoes are lauded for their lycopene. A key message that Western medicine could take from Unani medicine is that preventative care is very important. Keeping the body strong so that it can fight off disease and infection whenever possible and restore itself to health and balance is smart, sensible practice for any person.Doctors around the world, be they complementary physicians or Western doctors, usually push their patients to take care of themselves.
However, Western health care, despite advances, still does not value preventative care in the same manner as other cultures do and many Westerners develop diseases related to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. The patient then sees a doctor who prescribes medicines to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, manage diabetes and so on.
While many doctors do recommend dietary changes, exercise and other healthy life choices, their hands are tied by a lack of institutional and community support for such lifestyles and many patients find it very difficult to make the proper changes; it is far easier in Western culture for a person to pop pills rather than eat balanced diets rich in beneficial foods.