Herbal, Ayurvedic Medicine and Unani Treatment

Herbal Medicine

An herb is a plant or plant part used for its scent, flavor, or therapeutic properties. Herbal medicines are one type of dietary supplement. They are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts, and fresh or dried plants. People use herbal medicines to try to maintain or improve their health.

herbal medicine
Herbal Medicine

Many people believe that products labeled “natural” are always safe and good for them. This is not necessarily true. Herbal medicines do not have to go through the testing that drugs do. Some herbs, such as comfrey and ephedra, can cause serious harm. Some herbs can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

If you are thinking about using an herbal medicine, first get information on it from reliable sources. Make sure to tell your health care provider about any herbal medicines you are taking.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. It originated in India more than 3,000 years ago and remains one of the country’s traditional health care systems. Its concepts about health and disease promote the use of herbal compounds, special diets, and other unique health practices. India’s government and other institutes throughout the world support clinical and laboratory research on Ayurvedic medicine, within the context of the Eastern belief system. But Ayurvedic medicine isn’t widely studied as part of conventional (Western) medicine. This fact sheet provides a general overview of Ayurvedic medicine and suggests sources for additional information.

Is Ayurvedic medicine safe?

Ayurvedic medicine uses a variety of products and practices. Some of these products—which may contain herbs, minerals, or metals—may be harmful, particularly if used improperly or without the direction of a trained practitioner. For example, some herbs can cause side effects or interact with conventional medicines. Also, ingesting some metals, such as lead, can be poisonous.

Is Ayurvedic medicine effective?

Studies have examined Ayurvedic medicine, including herbal products, for specific conditions. However, there aren’t enough well-controlled clinical trials and systematic research reviews—the gold standard for Western medical research—to prove that the approaches are beneficial.

What Is Ayurveda?

The term “Ayurveda” combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Ayurvedic medicine, as practiced in India, is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. Many Ayurvedic practices predate written records and were handed down by word of mouth. Three ancient books known as the Great Trilogy were written in Sanskrit more than 2,000 years ago and are considered the main texts on Ayurvedic medicine—Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Astanga Hridaya.

Key concepts of Ayurvedic medicine include universal interconnectedness (among people, their health, and the universe), the body’s constitution (prakriti), and life forces (dosha), which are often compared to the biologic humors of the ancient Greek system. Using these concepts, Ayurvedic physicians prescribe individualized treatments, including compounds of herbs or proprietary ingredients, and diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations.

The majority of India’s population uses Ayurvedic medicine exclusively or combined with conventional Western medicine, and it’s practiced in varying forms in Southeast Asia.

What the Science Says About the Safety and Side Effects of Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic medicine uses a variety of products and practices. Ayurvedic products are made either of herbs only or a combination of herbs, metals, minerals, or other materials in an Ayurvedic practice called rasa shastra. Some of these products may be harmful if used improperly or without the direction of a trained practitioner.

Toxicity

Ayurvedic products have the potential to be toxic. Many materials used in them haven’t been studied for safety in controlled clinical trials. In the United States, Ayurvedic products are regulated as dietary supplements. As such, they aren’t required to meet the same safety and effectiveness standards as conventional medicines. For more information on dietary supplement regulations, see the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s (NCCIH) fact sheet Using Dietary Supplements Wisely.

In 2008, an NCCIH-funded study examined the content of 193 Ayurvedic products purchased over the Internet and manufactured in either the United States or India. The researchers found that 21 percent of the products contained levels of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic that exceeded the standards for acceptable daily intake.

Other approaches used in Ayurvedic medicine, such as massage, special diets, and cleansing techniques may have side effects as well. To help ensure coordinated and safe care, it’s important to tell all your health care providers about any Ayurvedic products and practices or other complementary and integrative health approaches you use.

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Ayurvedic Medicine Research

Most clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, or lacked appropriate control groups, potentially affecting research results.

Researchers have studied Ayurvedic approaches for schizophrenia and for diabetes; however, scientific evidence for its effectiveness for these diseases is inconclusive.

A preliminary clinical trial in 2011, funded in part by NCCIH, found that conventional and Ayurvedic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis had similar effectiveness. The conventional drug tested was methotrexate and the Ayurvedic treatment included 40 herbal compounds.

Ayurvedic practitioners use turmeric for inflammatory conditions, among other disorders. Evidence from clinical trials show that turmeric may help with certain digestive disorders and arthritis, but the research is limited.

Varieties of boswellia (Boswellia serrata, Boswellia carterii, also known as frankincense) produce a resin that has shown anti-inflammatory and immune system effects in laboratory studies. A 2011 preliminary clinical trial found that osteoarthritis patients receiving a compound derived from B. serrata gum resin had greater decreases in pain compared to patients receiving a placebo.

More to Consider

  1. Do not use Ayurvedic medicine to replace conventional care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
  2. Women who are pregnant or nursing, or people who are thinking of using Ayurvedic approaches to treat a child, should consult their (or their child’s) health care provider.
  3. Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help to ensure coordinated and safe care.

What is Unani Treatment?

Unani treatment originated from Greece (Unan). It aims to aid body’s natural processes with medicines that have no side effects. Unani is known by many different names, Greco-Arabs medicine, Arab medicine, Ionian medicine and Oriental medicine.

According to Unani system, diseases are natural processes and the symptoms are body’s reaction to them. Human body has self-preservation power (Quwwat-e-Mudabbira) that maintains the balance of these humours. Unani treatment facilitates body to regain or strengthen this balance. It follows the humoural theory that postulates presence of four humors in the body namely,

  • Blood (Dum).
  • Phlegm (balgham).
  • Yellow bile (safra).
  • Sauda (black bile).

Before starting the actual treatment, patient’s pulse is examined to know the dominant humor at that particular time. Depending upon the symptoms of patient urine and stool tests are also done.

In Unani treatment, strong drugs are never prescribed at the early stage of treatment. In fact, the drugs are selected as per the variations from healthy condition and preferably light dose is given. Effect of low dose is first noticed before giving the high dose.

Unani Treatments

For diagnosing the disease, unani physicians (commonly known as hakims) feel the rhythmic expansion of arteries (nubz) of the patient. Mainly there are four types of unani treatments available:

  1. Ilaj bil tadbeer (regimental therapy): It is a detoxification method that improves constitution of body by removing waste materials. Regimental therapy also protects health and increases defence mechanism of the body. Important techniques in regimental therapy include massage (dalk, malish), Turkish bath (hammam), exercise (Riyazat), leeching (Taleeq-e-Alaq) and venesection (Fasd).
  2. Ilaj bil Ghiza (dietotherapy): As the name suggests, dietotherapy involves regulation of quantity and quality of your diet. Unani physician may ask you to increase intake of specific food that is helpful to alleviate symptoms of the disease.
  3. Ilaj bil dawa (Pharmacotherapy): Natural drugs from plant, minerals and animal drugs are used in unani system. Potency and temperament of drugs are important consideration in unani treatment. The drugs are supposed to act according to their temperament .i.e. hot, cold, moist and dry. Unani medicines are available in form of tablets, decoctions, infusion, Jawarish, Majoon, Khamira, Syrup and powder.
  4. Jarahat (Surgery): Ancient physicians of unani system were considered to be pioneer in the field. However, at present only minor surgery is in vogue in this system.

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