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What is Unani Tibb?

The name Unani is derived from a Greek word Ionian which means medicine a symbol of life. Tibb means the knowledge of the states of the human body in health and illness (decline of health). Unani Tibb strives to find the best possible ways by which a person can lead a healthy life. Hence, Unani is an age old, time tested system of medicine dating back 5000 years to Greece. It refers to a tradition of Greeko-Arabic medicine which is based on the teachings of Greek physician Buqrat (Hippocrates; 460-377 BC) and Roman physician Jalinoos (Galen) and developed into an elaborate medical system by Arab and Persian physicians such as Al Razi (Rhazes), Avicenna (Ibne sina), Al Zahrawi and Ibn Nafis [1].

The Unani system of medicine is one of the oldest systems of medicine that is practiced in India and all over the world. The basic principles of this system rely on the concept put forward by Hippocrates and Galen.This system, earlier known as “Galenics”, later known as Unani Tibb, (Unani being the Arabic word for “Greek” and Tibb for “medicine” [2].

According to practitioners of Unani medicine, the health of the human body is maintained by the harmonious arrangement of al-umoor al-tabiyah, the seven basic physiological principles of the Unani doctrine. These principles include (1) arkan, or elements, (2) mizaj, or temperament, (3) akhlat, or bodily humours, (4) aaza, or organs and systems, (5) arwah, or vital spirit, (6) quwa, or faculties or powers, and (7) afaal, or functions. Interacting with each other, these seven natural components maintain the balance in the natural constitution of the human body. Each individual’s constitution has a self-regulating capacity or power, called tabiyat (or mudabbira-e-badan; vis medicatrix naturae in Latin), or to keep the seven components in equilibrium [4].

The 4 elements (Arkan) are fire, water, air and earth. There are 4 qualities namely heat, moisture, dryness and cold which humours or bodily fluid are composed of. Each living organism is composed of these elements/qualities e.g. food, living creatures and animals as well as humans. In humans, we call this temperament (mijaz) which is the physical composition of a person determining their body structure, personality and mental capabilities. The temperament of an individual is inherent and does not change, like your fingerprints. The temperament is determined by the quantity of the 4 elements in that particular person. Depending on which elements are more dominant than the others, this will portray a particular temperament.

The four temperaments:

The four temperament theory is a proto-psychological theory which suggests that there are four fundamental personality types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) described the four temperaments as part of the ancient medical concept of humourism, that four bodily fluids affect human personality traits and behaviours. Modern medical science does not define a fixed relationship between internal secretions and personality, although some psychological personality type systems use categories similar to the Greek temperaments [5].

image: the four temperaments

By Charles Le Brun - RMN, Public Domain,

Many of the answers for human behavior can be found in people’s temperaments or personalities. Hippocrates’ work has been researched extensively and is used as a dynamic diagnostic tool in both psychology and psychiatry to this day. A generic explanation of human “Temperaments” or “Personalities” is that all of us have been born with genetically inherited “behavioral tendencies” that are as much a part of our DNA as is the color of our hair; all of us are made up of DNA combinations passed on to us through our parents and ancestors. This fact is important because it helps us to more fully understand our basic behavioral disposition. Even though much of our human personality is inherited, it should also be noted, much of it has also been influenced and shaped by our unique environments. Most scientific research on human behavior suggests that about 50% of the variations in human personality are determined by genetic factors — so our human behavior is shaped equally by our environment and by our DNA. Furthermore, according to the scientific analysis all human personalities are commonly divided up into four major categories (with the exception of those with severe mental disorders), and these four types are further broken down into two categories namely Extroverts and Introverts. For more information about the 4 temperaments click here [6]

Concept of Health and Disease

According to Unani medicine, health is attributed to the equilibrium of akhlat (humours) in the body, according to their quality and quantity, while disease occurs due to disturbances in the equilibrium quantity and quality of akhlat. There is always a cause behind the origin of a disease. Unani medicine has established a very comprehensive system of classification of asbab (cause) which almost cover all prevalent causes of all disease under various categories. AsbabDakhilia (internal causes) deals with the diseases caused by sue mizaj (ill temperament) or sue tarkeeb (structural malformation of body organs). AsbabKharjiya (external causes) this is very important group of causes and encompasses almost all causes, emotional, physical, chemical, microbes etc, which directly or indirectly affect the equilibrium of human body. They are necessary for the maintenance of health but an unnatural change in these factors become the cause of disease. These factors are called six essential factors (Asbab e sittazarooriya)[7]:

  1. Environmental air & breathing

  2. Diet: Food & Drink

  3. Movement & Rest

  4. Sleep & wakefulness

  5. Eliminations & retention

  6. Emotions & mental health

Principles of Diagnosis

The diagnosis is based on the presenting symptoms of a disease, Inspection, palpation and percussion of different organs is the integral part of examination of a patient. However muainanabz(feeling of pulse), mushahidaebolwabaraz(examination of urine and faeces) and finally assessment of mizaj (termperament) are the most distinguished tools for the diagnosis of a disease [7]. These traditional diagnostics are now paired with modern medicine diagnostic methods like blood tests, physical examination and other investigations to confirm the diagnosis.

Principles and Modes of Treatment:

After proper diagnosis of a disease, a viable usooleilaj (line of treatment) is adapted and a judicious treatment is followed through to root out the disease. The treatment is broadly divided into three courses of therapies.

1. Ilajbiltadbeer (regimental therapy)

2. Ilajbildawa (pharmacotherapy)

3. Ilajbilyad (surgical therapy) [7]

1. Ilajbiltadbeer (regimental therapy)

The eminent Unani scholar, Ibn e Sina has mentioned 36 regimes in his famous book “Canon of Medicine”. The important regimes include

- Irsale Alaq(Leeching),

- Fasd(Venesection),

- Ishal(Purgation),

- Qai(Emesis),

- Idrar(Diuresis),

- Huqna(Enema),

- Hijamat(Cupping),

- Dalak(Massage),

- Riyazat(Exercise),

- Hammam(Bathing/hydrotherapy),

- Tareeq(Diaphoresis),

- Amle Kai(Cauterization),

- Nutool(Irrigation),

- Inkebaab(Inhalation),

- Tanafis(Expectoration),

- Takmeed(Fomentation),

- Imala (Diversion of morbid material),

- Ilam(Counter Irritation),

- Aabzan(Hydration Therapy),

- Zimaad wa tila(Ointment and Liniment) [1]

2. Ilajbildawa (pharmacotherapy)

Murakkab drugs of Unani medicine have remained an important aspect of disease treatment since antiquity. Physicians prepared different formulations for various diseases. The formulations thus prepared have always been of two categories. One category of Murakkab drugs was those which were formulated empirically and remained in use without conceptual framework behind these formulations. These formulations were categorized as Mujarrab (tested) formulations. The other category of formulations was prepared in consideration with theoretical framework of Mizaj (temperament) and Usoole ilaj (treatment strategy) and then tested by physicians. This category forms a large chunk of formulations in the formulary sections of the literature of Unani medicine. Present paper explores various approaches for formulating Murakkab drugs of the second category keeping in view the actions of the ingredients of the drug formulation, and treatment strategy of the disease for which the formulation was prepared. It elucidates the approaches of formulating compound drug formulations with the logic of including various individual ingredients. The study exemplifies two compound formulations to illustrate the approaches used to formulate compound formulations of Unani medicine[8].


The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please consult a qualified practitioner if you suffer from any of the conditions mentioned.

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1. Azad Hussain Lone, Tanzeel Ahmad, Mohd Anwar, Shahida Habib, Gh Sofi,Hashmat Imam. Leech Therapy-A Holistic Approach of Treatment in Unani (Greeko-Arab) Medicine. Anc Sci Life. 2011; 31(1):31-35.

2. Anonymous. Benchmarks for Training in Traditional/Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Geneva Switzerland WHO.2010; 1:3.

3. Ilaj-bil Tadbeer (Regimental Therapy): A review. Available from: [accessed Feb 26 2021].




7. Introduction and Principles of Unani Medicine. Available from: [accessed Feb 26 2021].



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