A medicinal practice that claims to be holistic in nature and is based on the adaptation of the human body to the environment, Unani is one of the recognized medicinal practice of India. Prof. Asim Ali Khan, Director General, The Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine (CCRUM), talks to THIP Media explaining the history of the medicine, how it still holds relevance in modern days and the Council’s efforts during the pandemic to collect scientific evidence that will advance the field of medicine.
What is Unani medicinal practice? How is it relevant in times of modern day diseases like COVID-19?
The Unani System of Medicine was developed and given the status of science in Greece, roots of which can be traced back to its earlier originators in ancient Egypt and its sister civilization Mesopotamia. It was later developed by Arabs, nurtured by Persians and further established as modern day science in India.
The theoretical framework of Unani Medicine is based on the teachings of Hippocrates, the father of medicine. The three fundamentals of Hippocratic Medicine were observation, experience, and rational principles, which still hold valid in the field of Medicine and Science.
Unani and Ayurveda have certain similarities. Both Ayurveda and Unani medicines are based on the concept that the body constitutes of basic elements i.e. air, water, fire and earth. In addition, Ayurveda considers ether or akash also as one the basic element. An imbalance in these elements causes diseases. Both systems advocate various processes for cleansing and purification of the body and prescribe medicines made from natural substances. Unani Medicine recognizes the influence of surroundings and ecological conditions on the state of health of human beings. Apart from treating disease conditions, Unani Medicine lays great emphasis on the prevention of disease and promotion of health. The formulations and composition for Unani medicines are different from Ayurveda.
In a completely healthy person Unani prescribes lifestyle, diet and environment appropriate for his or her temperament, while for those who have become vulnerable to disease, special diets, non-drug manipulations or regimens and even drugs are prescribed to maintain health and prevent disease.
Every person is supposed to have a unique humoral constitution, which represents his healthy state.To maintain correct humoral balance, there is a power of self-preservation or adjustment called medicatrixnaturae (Ṭabī‘atMudabbiraBadan) in the body. If this power weakens, imbalance in the humoral composition is bound to occur and this causes disease. In Unani Medicine, great reliance is placed on this power. The medicines used in this system, in fact, help the body regain this power to an optimum level and thereby restore humoral balance, thus retaining health. Also, correct diet and digestion are considered to maintain humoral balance.
And, how exactly is such an age-old medicinal practice still relevant in modern day when modern medicine (Allopathy) has made progress in leaps and bounds?
The basic strengths of Unani System of Medicine are its holistic approach, temperament based prescription and treatment. The use of natural drugs (mainly of plant origin), various therapeutic interventions, and regimens for prevention and treatment of diseases and health promotion is based on the concepts of holistic healing considering the individual’s psycho-physical wellbeing. Rational use of Unani medicines is usually free from adverse effects. The toning up of the organs and the immune system is a unique approach of Unani Medicine known for its beneficial effects. In chronic and some of the intractable diseases, these approaches have shown much utility in improving the quality of life of patients.
For example, in musculoskeletal disorders Unani system of medicine uses various regimens (Ilaj bit Tadbeer) like cupping, massages, exercises along with drug therapy for management of such disorders.
Unani medicine offers effective treatment of Vitiligo (Baras), Eczema (NärFärsé), Psoriasis (Dä’ al-Ñadaf), Hepatitis (Iltihäb-iKabid), Filariasis (Dä’ al-Feel), Diabetes mellitus (DhayäbéöusSukkaré), Rheumatoid arthritis (Waja‘ alMafäñil), Sinusitis (Iltihäb-I Tajäwéf-I Anf), Bronchial asthma (Zeeq un-Nafas), etc. CCRUMhas published many monographs, research reports, success stories and scientific papers in reputed national and international journals.
Over the years, one of the peripheral institute of CCRUM-Central Research Institute in Unani Medicine, Hyderabad has emerged as a specialty center of Unani treatment for skin diseases particularly Vitiligo and which has been upgraded to National Research Institute of Unani Medicine for Skin Disorders by Govt. of India in November, 2019.
But a medicinal field cannot stay stagnant based on past beliefs. In an age where research, documentation, scientific evidences drive decisions related to health, we see alternative medicinal practices like Unani fail to catch up. And that gives rise to a number of false claims in such a crisis moment, which can be dangerous.
The modern form of Unani medicine that we see today is a result of a long period of evolution which occurred through exchange of knowledge between diverse countries, regions and communities. The system is still increasing its dimensions and scope by incorporating the contemporary scientific knowledge and the newest of technologies. Traditional concepts and understanding of the nature of disease are being correlated with modern biomedical concepts. The worldwide trend towards the utilization of traditional medicine in health care delivery systems has created an enormous need for scientific validation of their efficacy by incorporation of contemporary standards and techniques. There is growing awareness among the scientific community and the general public about the intrinsic value of our traditional systems of medicine, and as a result Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha have entered the mainstream to compliment conventional medicine. We need to integrate the best of the different systems of medicine to meet the healthcare needs of contemporary society.
The Unani Materia Medica has attracted the attention of researchers in identifying active molecules and manufacturing commercial versions of traditional formulations.
Since its establishment in 1978, Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine (CCRUM), an autonomous organization under the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India is actively engaged in research and development activities on the applied as well as fundamental aspects of Unani Medicine.
Over the past four decades of its existence, the Council has made significant strides in clinical research, drug standardization, survey and cultivation of medicinal plants, and literary research. Besides, research-oriented health extension services activities related to Information, Education and communication (IEC) have also been part of the Council’s programs.
Presently, 23 centers of the Council and many other institutions are engaged in research on the Unani System of Medicine in different parts of the country. Under its clinical research program, the Council has established scientifically the therapeutic efficacy of various Unani drugs, which were in use for centuries.
Council has done noteworthy work in providing general medical care to the patients, bringing out innovative research outcomes, obtaining patents and bringing out scientific publications in various journals of international and national repute. To achieve excellence in research in the field of Unani Medicine, the Council is collaborating with premium institutes likeAll India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Jamia Millia Islamia, Jamia Hamdard, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education & Research (NIPER) Hyderabad,National Institute of Cancer Prevention andResearch (NICPR) Noida; Amity Institute, Noida and also with Aligarh Muslim University and various other premium institutes. The Council has also signed aMoA with National Research Development Cooperation (NRDC) – an institute of par excellence facilitating for patenting and commercialization of the technologies.
The entire process of drug development i.e. cultivation and collection of medicinal plants, standardization, preclinical toxicity and efficacy studies, and various phases of clinical trials are undertaken with standard protocols and methodologies.
In order to prevent misappropriation of traditional knowledge and granting of wrong patents based on traditional knowledge, a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) has been set up to maintain inter alia a database of Unani formulations in patent compatible format in the United Nations, recognized five international languages viz., English, German, Spanish, Japanese and French. This database has been made available to International Patent Offices under non-disclosure agreement for the purpose of examining patent applications before the grant of patent.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began, major emphasis has been laid on immune enhancement modalities and no cure claim has been made by CCRUM. The social media platforms and advisory only advocates usage of immune enhancement diet, drugs and their measures.
There have been claims that alternative medicinal practitioners do not find much scope to do clinical research in India. Is there any policy level talks happening within the AYUSH Ministry in this regard?
I differ from this statement. There has always been policy support from the Government for research and development of Unani Medicine.It is the mandate of Ministry of AYUSH to endorse traditional systems of healing in accordance with their genius and acumen and help promotion of integrative medical facilities.
For example, in recent pandemic situation, Ministry of AYUSH brought out a gazette notification based on the consultation of CDSCO, that allowed scientists,researchers, clinicians of any of recognized systems of medicine under IMCC Act, 1970, HCC Act 1973and NMC Act 2019 (formerly IMC Act 1956) can undertake research on COVID19 through Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homeopathy systems including prophylactic measures, intervention during the quarantine, asymptomatic and symptomatic cases of COVID -19, public health research, survey, lab based research etc. to generate evidence.
While undertaking research, it is mandatory for the organizations to comply with the following conditions:
(i) The proposals should be approved by their scientific advisory bodies and Institutional Ethics Committees.
(ii) If it is a clinical trial, the project should be registered with CTRI.
(iii) The sample size should be based on statistical justification.
(iv) The Clinical research should be conducted as per AYUSH guidelines for Clinical Research or ICMR guidelines.
(v) Compliance with relevant regulations for Bio-medical and Health Research.
(vi) Compliance to Good Clinical Practice Guidelines.
(vii) Compliance to National Ethical Guidelines for Bio-medical and Health Research on Human Participation published by ICMR.
(viii) Compliance with any other relevant regulations in force.
(ix) AYUSH registered practitioner/expert should be part of the study team at each site.
Hence, there is ample policy support which may be utilized by all the stakeholders working in this field.
So, have the Unani practitioners been able to take advantage of these policies or learn from the pandemic?
It is true that the current pandemic has provided an opportunity to the AYUSH practitioners to contribute in sharing the strain on the existing healthcare system. Unani physicians can draw on the knowledge in the classical textbooks, contemporary scientific studies, and their experiences in similar clinical settings to deal with the pandemic. Common preventive approaches of Unani medicine for healthy life-style including healthy diet, clean air, adequate sleep and physical activity, and avoidance of disease causing factors are being advised.
CCRUM has brought out advisory for immunity boosting measures during thepandemic. As per Unani classical wisdom, improving immunity with immune boosters is one of the key approaches for prevention of disease and maintenance of health. Therefore, a strategy to enhance immunity and provide symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infection is advocated in these guidelines for qualified Unani Medicine practitioners.
The Council has also launched population-based interventional study on the impact of Unani prophylactic intervention for prevention of COVID-19 infection in high-risk population in six cities across India. The study entitled “Population based Prospective Study on effectiveness and outcome of Unani medicine prophylactic intervention on population at risk of COVlD-19″ is being conducted in COVID 19 high risk areas through the Council’s centers in Lucknow, New Delhi, Mumbai, Aligarh, Srinagar and Bangalore. It is anticipated that the study will be able to generate evidence based data in the support of Unani Intervention for the prophylaxis against COVID-19 and pave new horizons in understanding the preventive potential of Unani Medicine.
Disclaimer: Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can futher read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.