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A rather large Unani clinic in Hyderabad, India. If you want to see what medicine was like in the 16th century, just have a look in there.
Against allopathy
Alternative medicine
Clinically unproven
Not to be confused with the unrelated terms umami and onanism.

Unani (meaning "Greek" or "Ionian" in Arabic[1]), a.k.a. yunani or unani tibbi, is a form of alternative medicine, which is based on the belief that the human body contains four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile),[2] and that imbalance of these four humors is the cause of disease. It's an example of the theory of Four Humours created by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, which later spread to the Islamic empires of the Near East during the Middle Ages.[3] While this belief has no scientific basis, contemporary adherents still try to propagate these beliefs as science.

You know how prescientific medicine was big on bloodletting, leeching, cupping, and died out? Well, it didn't die out. This is it.

Worryingly, Unani has quite a large infrastructure in south Asian countries such as India[4] and Pakistan, because Avicenna was quite a fan of it. But he lived a thousand years ago and so had an excuse. In the present day, it is taught in government-recognized universities. It also has a limited presence in the Western world.[5][6]


The theory which underlines Unani considers the following to be relevant to health:[7][8][9]

  • The four elements: air, water, fire and earth.
  • The four humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Imbalance of these causes diseases.
  • The nine temperaments
  • The three faculties: natural, psychic, and vital
  • The Arwah/Pneum/Spirit (vital force)
  • The organs
  • The functions

According to Unani, most diseases are the result of phlegm imbalance.[10] Conditions supposedly resulting from blood humor imbalance include headache, delirium, lethargy, weak limbs, nose itching, poor vision, enlarged tongue, canker sores, swollen palate, trembling lips, loose teeth, tooth spaces, slackness of uvula, diphtheria, coughing, pleurisy, swelling of liver, hemorrhoids, constant erection, swollen testicles, convulsion of penis, and cracked nails.[10]


To determine the humoral balance of the body, Unani diagnosis can include pulse, urine, and stool analysis.[11] Pulse diagnosis is very complex and involves detecting extremely subtle variations of the pulse, including factors such as rhythm, duration of pulse and the pause, moisture, and regularity.[11] Males' pulses are measured on their left hand, while females' are measured on their right hand.[11]

Waste analysis is also quite complicated and requires scrutinizing urine and feces in detail. The color of the urine is very important. For example, viscous and semen-like urine, among other kinds, indicate excess blood and blood humor inflammation, respectively.[12] Feces should ideally be more or less homogenous and somewhat yellow.[12] If the quantity of waste excreted exceeds that of food consumed, that indicates there is too much humor, and if it's less, that means there is too little.[12] Black feces indicates a black bile problem, green feces indicates lessened "innate heat", and yellow feces can be either bad or good depending on whether it's at the beginning or end of a disease (if at the beginning, it means the yellow bile's out of whack.)[12]

Also, tasting may be involved:

[The urine's] colour, taste, viscosity, whether it has froth on its surface, if the bubbles formed are large, indicating balgham, or small, indicating safra are scrutinised. The stool is also examined in a similar way.[13]

Standard of care[edit]

It would appear Unani has no consistent standard of care. For example, sources differ on whether bloodletting can be used during pregnancy.[14][15][16]

Some sources say tasting is a part of urine analysis, while others make no mention of it.[13][17][18] It's possible that Unani practice varies widely from practitioner to practitioner (much like naturopathy is a hodge-podge made up of the individual naturopath's beliefs).


Unani has a variety of ways to treat supposed humoral imbalances. Treatments are part of one of four groups:[13]

  • Regimental therapy
  • Dietotherapy
  • Pharmacotherapy (meaning herbs and animals, not pure drugs)
  • Surgery

Regimental therapy[edit]

Bloodletting and leeching[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Bloodletting

Unani and Ayurvedic practitioners consider bloodletting (also known as venesection or fasd) to be a valid method of removing "excess" blood and restoring the humoral balance. Some sources also say it purifies the blood by letting "waste" and toxins drain out.[19][10] (What the "waste" and "toxins" actually are is unclear, but naturally, "[n]aming such things is not so important as removing them.")[10] For serious or acute diseases, specific reflex points are punctured, in order to drain a few drops of blood.[13] (Hey, less is more, right?)

Unani bloodletting is claimed to be good for things like headaches, migraines, eczema, conjunctivitis, cataracts, asthma, angina (!), pneumonia, ulcers, tonsillitis and glaucoma.[16] Oddly enough, hypertension is not on the list. Venesection is also claimed to be useful for preventing disease in those with too much blood[15] (since, you know, having too much blood is bad.)

Unani bloodletting may also use leeches;[7] leeching is claimed to be good for baldness and pneumonia.[19][20]

(To be fair, leeching and bloodletting are used in real medicine and are known to be effective for some things. But in medicine, they're used only in very specific situations, while Unani uses them as panaceas for irrelevant and completely inappropriate diseases.)

One CAM magazine has this to say:

Venesection is a general eliminant for humors. It removes excess of humors in the same proportion as is present in blood vessels. Venesection is carried out when there is excess of blood in the body and patient is either exposed to the risk of developing a disease or has actually developed one. In both cases, the idea is to remove the general excess of humors, or the abnormal humor of both.[14]

Unani is promoted in the important naturopathic (and American) Textbook of Natural Medicine.[21] So, bloodletting is actually a feasible naturopathic treatment in the U.S. In the 21st century.


Unani has two kinds of cauterization: external and internal. The first is used for "necrotic and gangrenous tissues, pain management and varicose veins while the internal cauterization is indicated for mouth ulcers [and] anal fissures."[7]


This involves using poultices and herbal plasters which "cause drawing of excess blood and heat the skin's surface, this causes skin rashes or blisters on the skin’s surface and toxins are expelled out of the body."


Cupping is the practice of making a cup stick to the skin by using suction. One Unani resource says this can be done by "burning up an alcohol swab inside the cup or just by manual suction either by mouth or by a suction pump."[7] In Unani, cupping can be done together with bloodletting; this involves puncturing the skin before applying the cup. Cupping with bloodletting is used for "arthritis, skin diseases, pain management, female infertility, chronic migraines and hypertension management."[7] Other indications include liver diseases and malaria.[22]


There are five kinds of massage in Unani:

  • Hard massage. For muscle injury.
  • Soft massage. For depression and stress management.
  • Deobstruent massage. For fat reduction. (Note that fat reduction through massage is a myth.)[citation needed]
  • Cloth Massage. For vasodilatation.
  • Roller massage. This is just to make the patient feel good.


Pharmacotherapy involves giving the patient some herbal concoctions. These "drugs" are classed into one of four potency types: Hot, cold, wet, and moist.[7] Low-potency herbs are used first, and stronger ones are used as the disease gets worse.[7]


According to Unani, foods are broken down by the body's "heat".[23] When enzymes come into contact with food, the enzymes supposedly release heat that breaks it down. How nutritious a particular food is depends on various factors, including how much of each humor it creates, what season it is, and the person's mood (or "temperament").[23] Forbidden foods include, but are not limited to, pork, "scavengers" like dogs, cats, vultures, and snakes; and alcohol.[23][24] This is probably due to the influence of Islam, since Unani is predominantly a Muslim practice.[25][26][27]

See also[edit]


  1. http://www.greekmedicine.net/history/Unani_Medicine.html
  2. Unani Medicine — Effective, Inexpensive, Easily Available, Lifepositive.com.
  3. http://www.plantcultures.org/themes/medicine_unani.html
  4. What schemes have been formulated by Govt. of India for the development of Unani?
  5. American Institute of Unani Medicine
  6. http://london.enquira.co.uk/health-medecine/medicines-therapies/a-m-i-ayurvedic-unani-health-l78473.html
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Unani System of Medicine Practice, Globinmed.com.
  8. Hot Foods, Unani.com.
  9. Unani Faqs
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 The Unani Diagnostic Process, Unani.com.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Unani Pulse Diagnosis, Unani.com.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 The Cycle Completed, Unani.com.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Unani Medicine, UnaniDoctors.com.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Fasd (venesection): introduction, articlesbase.com.
  17. http://www.roymedical.com/english/unani.htm
  18. http://www.medpk.com/tib_yunani.php
  19. 19.0 19.1 The Unani approach to medicine
  20. Unani Therapy (Ilaj-bil-Tadbir) to Cure Diseases
  21. Naturopathy Embraces the Four Humors, Jann Bellamy, Science-Based Medicine.
  22. Regimental therapy, AYUSH.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Influence of Food, Unani.com.
  24. Avicenna Story 3, Unani.com.
  25. History of Islamic(Unani) Medicine, Imam Reza (A.S.) Network.
  26. Unani Tibb, Science Museum.
  27. Unani-Tibbi, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.