March 22, 2017



Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Unani-tibb, Unani-tibbi.


  • Unani is a medical system of thought based on its philosophy of the unique relationship of one of four "humors" assigned to every patient and the patterns of disorder that cause illness.

  • Unani has some similarities with Ayurveda. However, Unani's primary influence is Islamic, while Ayurveda's primary influence is in Vedic culture.

  • Unani began as a Graeco-Arabic medical practice that was popular at the time of Hippocrates. Eventually, this system became popular in the Middle East and some Asian countries around 10 A.D. Scholars in these areas outside of Europe have continued to develop and refine this medical system and its treatments for contemporary times.

  • Today, Unani is a popular system of medicine, particularly in India, where the practice is regulated by the government.

  • Treating illness using the Unani system of medicine may be less costly than with Western medicine, due in large part to the absence of expensive diagnostic procedures. The Unani system of healing encompasses everything from hygiene and nutrition to mental health treatment.

  • Unani disease categories, as well as herbal formulas, are currently under investigation as medical treatments in a number of countries worldwide.


  • The process of patient examination and diagnosis is quite different than from what a patient might expect at a conventional Western healthcare provider's office. Regardless of the reason for visiting a Unani health care provider, a patient will have their pulse, stool, and urine examined. The body may be palpated or touched with varying amounts of hand pressure. The physician may examine the eyes and skin. The doctor may also feel the patient's temperature and inquire about the current level of pain. These methods of evaluation are used to determine a patient's medical disposition, called a humor, as well as likely treatment options.

  • After an examination, the patient receives a unique diagnosis and is prescribed one or more types of treatment, regimental therapy, diet therapy, or pharmacotherapy. Regimental therapy is a phrase that covers a variety of practices and routines, including exercising, leeching, purging, vomiting, massaging, bathing, sweating, cupping, and/or bleeding. Diet therapy involves the addition or subtraction of particular foods in order to assist the patient's body in returning to a healthy state. Pharmacotherapy involves giving the patient one or more herbs. Advice in lifestyle modification is often given as well. To Western medical professionals, the role of the Unani practitioner may appear to be something between a doctor and a counselor.


  • The primary role of the Unani practitioner is to aid the patient's body in returning to a state of equilibrium after a period of illness. Illness or disease is thought of as a state of imbalance, which the Unani practitioner must influence to bring the patient back to a state of health.

  • The diagnosis and treatment of patients in Unani is based upon the understanding of a patient's "humors." This concept correlates a patient with one of four major characteristics ("humors"): Dum (blood), Balgham (phlegm), Safra (yellow bile) and Sauda (black bile). The stool, pulse, body temperature, and other aspects of a diagnostic evaluation take into account the interaction of these humors.

  • Each patient is thought to have been born with an inborn set of characteristics of health, which is a unique combination of humors and other less significant temperamental factors that span the realm of emotions and physical wellness. The process by which an individual becomes sick is therefore considered a unique trajectory for every patient. The influence of conditions and environmental factors such as food, drink, air, temperature, sleeping cycles, excretion, and retention are all factors that are thought to interact with a patient's temperament.

  • Unlike in Western medicine, Unani does not recognize an ideal state of health or one physiological path to illness. Similarly, all individuals are not capable of falling into the same category of illness. For instance, in Western medicine, many different people can be diagnosed with the same illness regardless of their emotional state or coexisting medical conditions. Unani would look at each patient's symptoms and create a unique narrative of how the illness occurred for each patient. Whereas treatments are generally standardized in Western medicine, an Unani physician would prescribe a unique treatment for each patient that may involve a complex combination of herbs, meditations, bodywork regimens, and immediate interventions, such as the placement of leeches.

  • A 2007 study by Subashini et al. examined the effect of the Unani herb Nardostachys jatamansi (muskroot) in rats with heart injury induced by a single dose of doxorubicin. The herb was given on the day of the doxorubicin administration and for the following week. By examining certain parameters in the rats' blood, the authors concluded that the herb caused protective and hypolipidemic effects on cholesterol and metabolizing enzymes.

  • A 2006 article by Khan et al. examined the effect of the Unani herb Khamira Abresham Hakim Arshad Wala (KAHAW) in treating certain cognitive functioning measures in rats with induced cognitive impairment. KAHAW is thought to be an antioxidant, and the authors hypothesized that giving the rats the herb would slow signs of deterioration of certain behaviors controlled by the brain. The authors found that the rats treated with KAHW retained more brain function than the other groups of rats.


  • Patients should inform their primary healthcare provider and Unani practitioner of all allergies before beginning herbal treatment.

  • Patients should inform all healthcare providers of other treatment modalities that they use, as well as all drugs, herbs, and supplements that they are taking.

  • Patients should not substitute more proven therapies with Unani or delay to use more proven therapies.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov

  2. Health & Family Welfare Department - Government of Tamil Nadu. www.tnhealth.org

  3. Khan MB, Hoda MN, Yousuf S, et al. Prevention of cognitive impairments and neurodegeneration by Khamira Abresham Hakim Arshad Wala. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Nov 3;108(1):68-73. View Abstract

  4. Subashini R, Ragavendran B, Gnanapragasam A, et al. Biochemical study on the protective potential of Nardostachys jatamansi extract on lipid profile and lipid metabolizing enzymes in doxorubicin intoxicated rats. Pharmazie. 2007 May;62(5):382-7. View Abstract

  5. Unani Doctors. www.unanidoctors.com

  6. Unani Herbal Healing. www.unani.com

  7. World Health Organization. who.int/en

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017