Unani Tibb Medicine



Unani Tibb Medicine

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Unani-Tibb (also known as Unani Medicine or Tibb) is a system of medicine based on the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen, subsequently developed into a comprehensive healthcare system by Arabic physicians, especially Ibn Sina (aka Avicenna). The key principle of Unani-Tibb is that the body has a potent ability to heal itself and maintain optimum health; so any therapy must support and augment this, rather than oppose or diminish it. In addition, Unani-Tibb accepts that every person is unique, and this must be taken into account in both diagnosing disorders and selecting therapy.

Empowerment of the individual is an essential aspect of Unani-Tibb healthcare, so knowledge of self and the disorder features prominently. Treatment is designed to enhance self healing. In Unani-Tibb, this relies on personal lifestyle reform where appropriate, or intervention with one or more therapeutic measures, such as herbal medication, ‘hands-on’ therapy and dietary changes.


Unani-Tibb philosophy is largely based on four key axioms:

  • The first is Temperament, which reflects the uniqueness of each individual. This is important in both diagnosis and treatment.
  • Second, Physis is the body’s innate power for self-healing. The prime objective of Unani-Tibb therapy is to support Physis, initially by lifestyle changes; then by the rational use of natural and herbal medications; and finally by the rational application of specific therapies.
  • Third is the Qualities, an old concept given a new perspective in Unani-Tibb, taking into account recent developments in clinical science. Disturbance in the person’s qualitative balance is the source of body disharmony and therefore disease.
  • Finally, there are the Lifestyle Factors. Unani-Tibb strongly believes that lifestyle diseases – for example, cancer, diabetes and heart diseases – are often the result of, or aggravated by, imprudent or even self-destructive lifestyles. Sound practical advice is offered on lifestyle – modifying the patient’s diet, improving sleep patterns, encouraging exercise, for example.


The focus is on achieving optimum health, rather than suppressing disease.

Unani-Tibb therapy targets the underlying causes of the person’s disorder, rather than concentrating mainly on symptoms. Health is the body’s natural default position.

  • All Unani-Tibb treatment is, without exception, designed to support inner healing, or Physis. It supports the mantra: “Treatment comes from outside; healing from within”.
  • Unani-Tibb regards the body and mind as being strongly interconnected. It has always accepted that virtually all diseases have physical, emotional and environmental elements. Unani-Tibb is a legitimate, holistic system of healthcare.
  • Unani-Tibb views the patient as a unique individual, rather than a living specimen of a particular disorder. Every person is treated according to his or her own unique signs and symptoms. Considerable time is taken for diagnosis, especially when assessing the patient’s temperament. Unani-Tibb regards this as crucially important in both diagnosis and subsequent therapy.
  • Diagnosis is carried out bearing in mind the patient’s temperament, which is, in brief, an amalgam of personality and constitution. Unani-Tibb diagnostic methods include both traditional techniques such as pulse and tongue diagnosis as well as standard conventional medical tests and pathological measurements.
  • The foundation of Unani-Tibb therapy is lifestyle reform. This embraces changing a person’s diet where necessary, encouraging more physical exercise, better breathing methods, improving sleep quality, and more effective detoxification. The value of this, apart from dealing with the immediate clinical disorder, is that it encourages a more prudent lifestyle. This reduces the probability of the disorder recurring.
  • Unani-Tibb employs a number of ‘hands-on’ therapies, such as massage, acupressure, aromatherapy and therapeutic cupping. There is also an extensive range of natural herbal medicines registered for specific ailments.
  • Empowering the patient is an important aspect of Unani-Tibb, as this improves motivation and so brings a better outcome. In addition, the possibility of recurrence of the disorder is reduced. Guided by his or her practitioner, the patient is educated on the nature of the disorder, and informed of the pros and cons of the treatment option, and so involved in healthcare choices. The patient is not manoeuvered into ‘victim-hood’.
  • Unani-Tibb relies exclusively on natural approaches. The use of new-to-nature substances, such as conventional drugs or chemical modifications of existing natural products, is eschewed. Similarly, lifestyle reform only adopts techniques which are nature-based and not requiring complex, expensive man-made equipment.
  • Unani-Tibb accepts that disorders which have had months, maybe years, to develop are not likely to be cured rapidly. Suppressing symptoms can be achieved quickly, but restoring harmony takes time. There is no quick fix with Physis. The patient is made aware that achieving optimum health is a medium-term process.


Opposition to conventional medicine has been building up for some time. The reasons are well defined, and familiar to most of us. They include lack of drug efficacy, short- and long-term adverse drug reactions, an alarming increase in resistance to antibiotics, and of course escalating cost. There is also the feeling that they are not as effective as claimed, and perform poorly in chronic, long-term or recurring disorders. More generally, the practitioner-to-patient relationship is often unsatisfactory, sometimes abysmal. Moreover, there is a too-narrow focus on a symptomatic versus curative approach, and the neglect of nutrition and other lifestyle factors in dealing with the disorder. These and other factors have encouraged many to try one or other form of complementary medicine, either alone or combined with conventional medicine as Integrative Medicine.

Essentially the thrust of Unani-Tibb therapy is to support Physis in restoring harmony, and so rectify the disorder. However, Unani-Tibb diagnosis and therapy are largely congruent with conventional medicine, as they both can lay claim to the same historical origins, such as the Hippocratic tradition. This suggests that Unani-Tibb would be a suitable partner in the practice of Integrative Medicine. In practical terms, the treatment of acute diseases and emergencies would have conventional medicine as the major partner. In chronic disorders, however, the dominant role would be assumed by Unani-Tibb. In addition, whereas conventional medicine is largely concerned with the suppression of troublesome symptoms, Unani-Tibb is more directed at nullifying the underlying causes and contributory factors. The two medical paradigms would therefore truly complement each other. By combining both medical systems in an integrative approach, the probability of cure is increased.


The Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb was set up in 1997, together with the South African Tibb Association.
Unani-Tibb was included as the eleventh modality of the Allied Health Professional Council of South Africa in 2001. This body [Act 63 of 1982] controls all matters relating to Unani-Tibb practitioners and students, such as educational standards, scopes of practice, and disciplinary matters. www.ahpcsa.co.za
Unani-Tibb is one of the categories of Complementary Medicines, regulated by the South African Medicines Control Council.

Contact details:

  • Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb
  • www.tibb.co.za
  • E-mail: info@tibb.co.za
  • Tel: (27)11 991 7300
  • Physical address:
    1137 Anvil Rd, Robertville, Roodepoort, 1724