Healing With Unani Medicine

Can this system of medicine help keep your brain, eyes, and joints healthy?

Almonds and spoonful of almond oil, close up
Almond oil is used for hair care in Unani medicine. Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

Unani medicine is a system of alternative medicine that originated in ancient Greece but is now practiced primarily in India. Involving the use of herbal remedies, dietary practices, and alternative therapies, Unani medicine addresses the prevention and treatment of disease.

What Are the Principles of Unani Medicine?

According to practitioners of Unani medicine, achieving a balance of the bodily fluids known as "the four humors" (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) is essential to health.

Another key principle of Unani medicine is that disease results from an imbalance in air, earth, water, and fire, four elements thought to comprise all that exists in nature, including the human body.

In addition, Unani medicine is partly based on the principle that environmental conditions, including quality of water and air,) can significantly impact health.

What Are the Treatments Like?

In Unani medicine, conditions are often treated with herbal formulas containing a variety of natural substances. For example, a formula known as Khamira Abresham Hakim Arshad Wala contains such botanicals as saffron, cardamom, Indian bay leaf, and citron. Considered a tonic, Khamira Abresham Hakim Arshad Wala is said to enhance heart health and aid in the treatment of cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure and angina.

Commonly prescribed treatments in Unani medicine also include dietary changes, leech therapy, and surgery.

The History

Unani medicine is largely based on principles proposed by such physicians as Hippocrates and Galen. In addition, a number of Arab and Persian scholars (including the Arab philosopher and physicist Avicenna) have contributed to the development of Unani medicine. The word "Unani" means "Greek" in Arabic.

Unani medicine was introduced in India around the tenth century.

The Research on Unani Medicine

Although recent scientific research on the health effects of Unani medicine is extremely limited, there's some evidence from animal studies that certain treatments used in Unani medicine may have some benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available studies:

1) Arthritis

Majoon Suranjan (an herbal formula used in Unani medicine) shows promise in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research in 2011. In tests on rats, researchers found that Majoon Suranjan (which contains ginger, aloe vera, and other substances) may help treat rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation.

2) Cataracts

Another herbal formula used in Unani medicine, Kohl-Chikni Dawa may help protect against cataracts. In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, tests on diabetic rats demonstrated that treatment with eyedrops containing Kohl-Chikni Dawa helped inhibit cataract development.

Along with glaucoma, cataracts are common among people with diabetes.

3) Brain Health

One of the formulas widely used in Unani medicine is Khamira Abresham Hakim Arshad Wala, a preparation that contains dozens of natural substances (including saffron, cardamom, Indian bay leaf, and citron). It may help prevent aging-related impairments in brain function, suggests a rat-based study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2006. The study's authors determined that the antioxidant-rich formula may help preserve brain health by protecting against the harmful effects of free radicals.

Possible Side Effects

Certain treatments used in Unani medicine (such as certain herbal preparations) may be harmful to some people.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. While consumers face such risks when purchasing any dietary supplement, these risks may be of greater magnitude in the purchase of products containing a variety of herbs in varying doses.

Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

It should also be noted that Unani medicine is not a licensed health profession in the United States.

The Takeaway

Research on Unani medicine is extremely limited and has mostly been done on animals, not humans. If you're considering the use of Unani medicine in the treatment of any health condition, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before beginning treatment. Keep in mind that self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Unani medicine is somewhat similar to ayurvedic medicine, a form of alternative medicine that originated in India. You can learn more about herbs used in ayurvedic medicine here.

Several other antioxidant-rich substances may help protect brain health as you age. For example, studies show that increasing your intake of resveratrol and green tea may aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.


Ahmad S, Rehman S, Ahmad AM, et al. Khamiras, a natural cardiac tonic: An overview. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2010 Apr;2(2):93-9. 

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.

Lone AH, Ahmad T, Anwar M, Habib S, Sofi G, Imam H. Leech therapy- a holistic approach of treatment in unani (greeko-arab) medicine. Anc Sci Life. 2011 Jul;31(1):31-5.

Siddiqui TA, Shadab Z, Nishat I, et al. Anticataract activity of Kohl-Chikni Dawa--a compound ophthalmic formulation of Unani medicine in alloxan-diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 May;86(1):109-12.

Rahman SZ, Khan RA, Latif A. Importance of pharmacovigilance in Unani system of medicine. Indian J Pharmacol. 2008 Feb;40(Suppl 1):S17-20.

Singh S, Nair V, Gupta YK. "Antiarthritic activity of majoon suranjan (a polyherbal Unani formulation) in rat." Indian J Med Res. 2011 Sep;134:384-8.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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