The Unani medical system has its genesis in Greece during the age of Pericles (562 BC - 430 BC). This medicine system was further developed and flourished throughout the Arab civilization. While many people made valuable contributions in developing the Unani medical system, Avicenna (980 - 1037) is considered to be the most significant character in the development of this ancient medical system. Avicenna is considered to be the most celebrated as well as influential scientists during the Islamic Golden era. According to available documents, Persia was the birth place of Avicenna. It is interesting to note that this science genius started studying medicine from the tender age of 13 and by the time he was 16, Avicenna was treating patients. Avicenna's success in medical practice helped him to gain excellent reputation among the rulers and nobility of Samanid Empire (the place is presently known as Iran). Avicenna wrote several books on medicine as well as philosophy during his life time. Most of his writings were on varied subjects like astronomy, mathematics, logic and geology. "The Canon of Medicine" (Qunun) is considered to be the most important medical work by him. This book was regarded to be a valuable text all over Europe and even the Middle East even several centuries after Avicenna's death.
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Simply speaking, Unani refers to an ancient medical system of natural and holistic healing. If one studies medicine on the whole, he/ she will learn that all types of natural medicine systems are extremely complex. This is basically an alternative medical system that makes use of a range of holistic principles that aids a practitioner to transform a correct diagnosis into a successful treatment process. Although this ancient medical system is generally associated with Islam, the word Unani actually refers to "Greek".
Strictly speaking, Unani medical system has two fundamental principles or aspects - the first is the life force, also known as "thymos", while the second are the four vital quintessence, also known as "humors". Whenever an individual falls ill or suffers from a health disorder, it is very likely that the thymos as well as the humors of the person will be affected negatively. They are affected in various different ways - the situation may even deteriorate to such extent that one may have very scant or excessive thymos in his/ her body or only in some body parts. In most cases, thymos is affected by emotions and age and diseases can have a negative influence on them.
Nevertheless, problems that occur most often are associated with the humor; for instance, complaints that may happen owing to the presence of too much humor in the body or in some specific body parts or too scant humor. Occasionally, poisons or even any insidious micro-organism may degrade the level of humor in the body. Generally, to some extent thymos too influence humors as well as by progressive intake of foods and drinks. In addition, there are external influences, such as the environment.
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In general, Unani treatment involves some dietary approach. All the same, the early stages of all types of cases involve administering herbal medicines. In fact, this ancient herbal system emphasizes the use of herbs. Herbs contain several therapeutic properties that are useful in curing various diseases. In addition, they also enclose various elements such as sugar, gum, resins, inorganic salts, vitamins and numerous vegetable matters. These constituents serve in the form of incorporated antibodies as well as safeguarding the body from all negative consequences of the herb itself.
In the case of most such medicines, honey is used as the base material, as it is considered to possess healing properties. Moreover, Unani medicine also makes use of genuine pearls as well as metals according to the requirement for treating particular ailments. Generally speaking, such treatment is undertaken by working on particular body reflexes or by resorting to body message. Occasionally, especially in the instance of problems related to the musculoskeletal system such as back pain, arthritis and others, Unani treatment is also undertaken by use of heat or cold, suction cups or by manipulation.
However, in some rare cases such as critical diseases, Unani treatment may even entail perforating specific reflex points, which may result in appearance of some blood. The primary objective of this ancient medical system is the use of safe and gentle therapies. This is one reason why Hippocrates too believed in this medical system. Experience as well as practice over the centuries has established that the Unani medical system is not only safe and gentle, but it is also highly effectual in curing several different critical and chronic diseases.
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In fact, the Unani medical system entails several therapeutic processes like Turkish bath, venesection, exercise, leeching, massage, cupping and many others. While treating problems related to the musculoskeletal system, Unani medicine practitioners often apply cold, heat and suction cups. In the case of severe and critical diseases, the treatment seldom involves puncturing certain reflex points and discharging some drops of blood. Unani medical system employs another treatment form known as dietotherapy, which involves taking specific diets or changing the amount or quality of food to restore health. Then again, pharmacotherapy employs medicines that are obtained from plant as well as mineral resources. These medicines are administered to cure various types of ailments.
In the early stages of his treatment, a Unani practitioner, known as hakim, begins his treatment with a moderate dose of medicine. In addition, the patient is directed to strictly adhere to specific dietary restrictions and particular lifestyles. The physician feels the pulse (nabz) of the patient to diagnose the ailment. The physician feels the changes or alterations in a pulse by using his fingers and finds out the particular humor that is either dominant or extreme. Thereafter, he begins his treatment. There are a number of other procedures to diagnose ailments and these include examination of urine and stool. The color as well as viscosity of the stool and urine is examined, helping the physician to diagnose the condition the patient is suffering from.
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The Unani medical system makes use of medicines, drinks, dietary changes and various other regimens like codes of conduct that largely help to sustain as well as promote good health, while preventing diseases and curing them. According to this ancient medicine system, employing fresh and clean water, inhaling clean and pure air and consuming fresh foods helps in preventing the occurrences of several diseases. Likewise, there is a need for a perfect balance between the mind and the body to promote various metabolic processes as well as help eliminate waste and toxic products from the body. In fact, Unani medicine is a branch of alternative medicine and its concept is based on the perception of four humors, which include dam (blood), balgham (phlegm), Ṣafrā' (yellow bile) and Saudā' (black bile).
The human body's ability to protect itself as well as maintain an appropriate balance of all the four humors is known as Quwwat-e-Mudabbira in Unani, denoting Medicatrix Naturae. Use of Unani medicines helps the ailing body to regain the perfect balance among the four humors as well as between the body and the mind. The balance of these four humors is extremely important, as it helps to maintain health. On the other hand any kind of alteration or imbalance in these humors results in occurrence of diseases and at times may even lead to death.
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The Unani medical system classifies the basic composition of the human body into seven primary categories. In Unani medicine systems, these seven basic and natural components are known as "Umoor-eTabiya". These components are said to be responsible for sustaining the health of a human being. These seven natural components include arkan (elements), akhlaat (humors), afaal (functions), arwah (spirits or vital forces), aaza (organs), mizaj (temperament) and quwa (faculties).
Before we conclude, it is worth mentioning that the Unani medical system is a comprehensive segment in the sphere of ancient Indian medicine system. This medical system was compiled by the great Greek scholar Hippocrates several centuries ago. However, with the passage of time, this ancient medicine system has been enriched by several scholars and scientists who succeeded Hippocrates. As a result of their contributions, this medicine system has been acclaimed as a science. Hence, similar to various other scientific systems, Unani is also governed by several concepts and principles.