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Iranian Traditional Medicine

Iranian traditional medicine (ITM), also known as Persian traditional medicine, Iranian-Islamic traditional medicine (IITM), traditional Iranian medicine (TIM), or simply traditional medicine (Persian: طب سنتی‌ ایرانی tebbe sonnati irāni) is one of the famous and most ancient forms of traditional medicines (more…). Studies and researches reveal that some of the earliest records of the history of ancient Iranian medicine can be found in 8,000 to 6,500 B.C.while it is remarkable that Hippocrates, a Greek physician who is considered as one of the outstanding figures in the history of medicine belongs to about 460 BC.

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Iranian traditional medicine is grounded in the four senses of humor concept: Phlegm (Balgham), Blood (Dam), Yellow bile (Ṣafrā’) and Black bile (Saudā’). Some traditional medicine forms are in this base. Yunani and Graeco-Arabic are the most famous of that. It is based on the teachings of Greek physician Hippocrates and Roman physician Galen and developed by Rhazes, Avicenna (Ibn Sena) into an elaborate medical system.

The old medical system was developed by a number of nations. Iranian traditional medicine, although often presumed as part of unani medicine because of a great overlap between these two, still is a separate tradition with roots further in the ancient Iranian and Indian past.

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History

Globally medicine reached its peak by the rise of Islam in Iran concurrent with the lives of great polymaths such as Muhammad ibn Zachariah al-Razi, Hakim Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the west) and Esmaeil Jorjani (9th to 12th c.). Ancient Iranian Medicine, the basic knowledge of four senses of humor as a healing system, was developed by Hakim Ibn Sina in his medical encyclopedia The Canon of Medicine.

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According to a definition given in one of the first Iranian Islamic medical textbooks called Hidayat al-Muta’allemin Fi al-Tibb [literally meaning ‘A Guide to Medical Learners’ containing articles about the elements, temperaments, humors, hygiene, anatomy, physiology, pathology, signs and symptoms of diseases and treatment of many diseases] written in Persian by Abu Bakr Rabee Ibn Ahmad Al-Akhawyni Bokhari in 10th century, medicine is a craft of scientifically and practically maintaining human beings’ health and restoring it once it deteriorates.

Therefore, firstly it is important to recognize and ensure one’s health and then in case of a disease nurse them back to full health, which is the most comprehensive definition of medicine provided today that underscores the primary mission of medical practices.

Consistently Iranian traditional medicine strength comes from prioritizing health maintenance over treating diseases.

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As it is religiously obligatory to know the rudimentary rules and regulations set by Islam it is also mandatory for all human beings to familiarize themselves with basics regarding healthcare to avoid illnesses as much as possible and manage to treat mild illnesses to prevent refractory and chronic disease.

The lifestyle rules in Iranian traditional medicine are mainly focused on six core principles or six most essential items also known as “Setah Zaroriah” in Persian.

Food and drinks, climatic conditions and environment, physical activities and rest Iranian traditional medicine, psychiatric conditions including that of sadness, happiness, depression, and stress, sleep and wakefulness, absorbing key nutrients and ridding body from waste materials (sweat, urine, or feces) are the six fundamental and guiding principles behind the Iranian traditional medicine lifestyle and issues one must take into account while trying to maintain their health.

The first step to ensure optimum health is recognizing one’s temperament (physical and mental characteristics from Iranian traditional medicine point of view) to get useful information to find the best route to a healthy life.

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Iranian traditional medicine is a holistic medicine which has been based on individual differences, a determinant basic concept named as Mizaj (temperament). According to Iranian traditional medicine, everybody has a definite Mizaj which is determinant to construct all physical or mental characteristics.

The tempers (Amzajeh) are classified totally into nine categories: Moderate, warm, cold, wet, dry, warm and dry, warm and wet, cold and dry, cold and wet.

Displaying some identifying behavioral and physical characteristics would describe one’s temperament.

Frame

  • Being stout, sturdy, big-boned and prone to gain weight are signs of wetness while not gaining weight and being thin are the distinguishing characteristics of dryness.

Body parts

  • Bigger faces, fingers, lips, noses, organs, and body parts are defining characteristics of people with wet Mizaj whereas people with dry Mizaj have smaller body parts.

Complexion

  • Rosy and ruddy complexion is a sign of warmness and wetness, while having a yellow cast is a sign of warmness and dryness, on the other hand, light and fair complexion is a distinctive characteristic of people with wet and cold Mizaj. And last but not least people with cold and dry Mizaj have a dark complexion.

Hair

  • People with dry Mizaj have coarse, curly and oily hair; warmness cause the hair to grow faster and people with warm Mizaj have thick black hair, with thick density and more volume. Silky, straight, smooth, thin and fair hair which grows slower is a distinctive characteristic of people with cold Mizaj. Wetness would cause the hair to easily hold a curl or style.

Skin

  • People with dry Mizaj Have dry skin and people with wet Mizaj have soft and squishy skin. Having naturally high body temperature once someone touches people with warm Mizaj tells they are warm. People with cold Mizaj feel cold and run colder than the other people and once someone touches them can tell they are colder than normal.

Activity

  • Warmness brings about increase in exuberance and energy level which boost speech and body movements speed while coldness causes quite the reverse symptoms as people with cold Mizaj don’t have much energy and are generally slow, they take their time speaking and acting.

Mental trait

  • People with warm Mizaj are normally and usually more extrovert, sociable, and maybe less patient but people with cold Mizaj are more introvert, calmer, and more patient. People with warm Mizaj are more inclined to suffer stress and restlessness; however, people with cold Mizaj have a tendency to experience depression and melancholic thoughts and have a hallucination or sometimes delusions.
  • However, keep in mind that one’s personality traits may be modified or changed due to various factors such as upbringing, religion, spirituality, and one’s striving to change their attitude. Therefore, one’s personality may not necessarily match their temperament.

Sensitivity

  • People with warm Mizaj are more sensitive to warmness (surrounding environment, foods, and drinks); those with cold Mizaj are more sensitive to coldness; those who have dry Mizaj are more sensitive to dryness and those with wet Mizaj are more sensitive to humidity.

Sleep

  • Sleeping too much or sleepiness is a sign of wetness and needing much less sleeping hours is a defining characteristic of dryness.

Waste matter

  • Waste matters (e.g. urine, sweat, and feces) in those with warm Mizaj have strong color and odor while in people with cold Mizaj the waste matters don’t have strong color or odor.
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Temperament- or to use the Persian equivalent ‘Mizaj’- is a set of physical and mental characteristics which will be defined by examining one’s symptoms and signs in the past and in the present. Generally, Mizaj represents the excess or lack of warmness and humidity in one’s body and is classified into four categories- also called four qualities- of warmness, coldness, dryness, and wetness.

Mizaj is a spectrum, meaning that two persons might have warm Mizaj but one’s Mizaj might be warmer than the other one. In fact, no two individuals have exactly the same Mizaj, however, they can resemble one another to some extent.

Relatively speaking Mizaj and genetics are similar in that once an embryo starts to develop its Mizaj will be determined. Consistently the parents’ Mizaj can also be a deciding factor in the child’s Mizaj which is also referred to as “inherent” or “main” Mizaj that one is born with.

While Mizaj is forming one or two of the four qualities of warmness, coldness, dryness, and witness might become dominant and decide the main Mizaj. Therefore, regarding which quality is more dominant the tempers are classified totally into nine categories of warm, cold, wet, dry, warm and dry, warm and wet, cold and dry, cold and wet, and moderate (when none of the qualities are dominant).

There are no absolute good or bad temperaments and as long as they are within their normal range- reflected in physical and mental health- they are in a balanced (normal or good) state. So, each individual should maintain their own balanced state during their life by choosing the kind of lifestyle which suits them best by corresponding to their own distinguishing Mizaj. As each person’s Mizaj differs from another one’s, peoples lifestyles will be different necessarily; this is the main essence of the Iranian traditional medicine in maintaining health and treating illnesses.

By adopting the kind of lifestyle which fit each person’s Mizaj one should try to keep the inherent warmness and humidity of their body in certain range (as per their main Mizaj) and avoid possible mal-temperament or Sou-e-Mizaj.

Mizaj is not just confined to human beings but literally every object, situation, and state in the world has a defining Mizaj which has an impact on human beings’ health.

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Humor, or to use the Persian term ‘Akhlat’, are liquid humor formed in the liver and gastrointestinal system following digestion. In other words, after eating and drinking, digestion, the process of breaking down foodstuff into smaller units and converting them into a substance suitable for absorption, happens.

Afterward, the substances move towards the liver and will be processed again (called the second digestion in traditional medicine) which form the four liquid senses of humor called: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.

So the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the digestive tract, plays an important role in one’s health and that’s why it is said that all diseases begin in the gut. The four aforesaid senses of humor, or Akhlat, are supposed to supply the cells and the body organs with necessary nutrients.

Therefore, the healthier the humor is the healthier the body. So, selecting healthy foodstuff in accordance with the main Mizaj (temperament) to aid digestion is the point to keep healthy. Excessive amounts of blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm is rooted in the fact that someone has not stuck to their healthy diet.

In the Iranian traditional medicine ‘abstaining’ is the best path to effective treatment. According to a saying by Imam Reza, the eighth Shia Imam, once you are aware of the detrimental effects of a food item you should abstain from it and it is wise “not to choose your desire over your body’s comfort”.

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Akhlat have Mizaj

As mentioned previously everything around us in this world has Mizaj and Akhlat are no exception. Akhlat can be also examined according to their warmness and humidity :

  • Yellow bile is warm and dry, in case it increases in the body the body will become warmer and drier
  • Blood is warm and wet, excessive blood will surge warmness and humidity in the body
  • Black bile is cold and dry, similarly, with copious amounts of black bile the body will get drier and colder
  • Phlegm is cold and wet, high amounts of phlegm in the body will rise coldness and humidity in the body

Yellow bile

  • Yellow bile is not as abundant as phlegm and blood in the body. It is the lightest of all humor. It resembles cooking foam. Yellow bile acts as a diluent and facilitates the transfer of blood and nutrients from capillaries to the remote body organs.
  • It is also in charge of metabolism of fats and lipids and ease digestion. Yellow bile is tasked with cleaning up the digestive system, vascular tissues, and genitalia. That’s why people with excessive yellow bile might experience a burning sensation with urination or defecation, frequent urination, frequent bowel movements, and heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding.
  • Thick or viscous blood cannot effectively flow into the small vessels and capillaries and provide the tissues with sufficient oxygen and nutrients, so it could cause lack of energy (fatigue) along with bruising or discoloration, cold feet, and cold hands. Yellow bile would stop such health conditions by improving blood circulation as its job is to accelerate the transfer of blood and nutrients in the body. Being hot and dry, yellow bile is accompanied with movement and motion rather than immobility.

Blood

Blood” is the most abundant and accordingly the most important humor in the body which will be formed by eating main dishes. The humor of “Blood” is necessary for growth especially in children and teenager when growth spurt happens. So they will be needing larger amounts of “Blood” by consuming foodstuff which will produce this humor in the body.

A great deal of the bloodstream is made up of humor of “Blood” which is warm and wet. It is noteworthy that the body lives on “Blood” as it keeps the body warm and moist as warmth and humidity are indicatives of being alive.

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Black bile

  • Black bile is cold and dry. It is sparse in the body but it sure is pretty essential for the body. The right amounts of black bile keep bones healthy and strong and that’s why bones, teeth, and tendons primarily live off black bile.
  • Normal amounts of black bile also supports hair and nails, in fact, black bile strengthen body parts, therefor, lack of black bile in the body will compromise bone’s strength and the tendons function. In a worst-case scenario, it can lead to osteoporosis. Its shortage would also cause tooth decay and hair falling. Black bile also it stimulates appetite when the stomach is empty.

Phlegm

  • After the humor of blood, phlegm is the second most abundant humor in the body which has a cold and wet Mizaj.
  • Phlegm is a slimy liquid very much like water (colorless, odorless and tasteless) and it can be found in body parts such as dermis, adipose tissue (body fat), synovial fluid, and the mucus lining the lungs, throat, mouth, nose, etc. which require humidity and flexibility to function properly.
  • The cerebrospinal fluid which is the clear, colorless body fluid found in the brain and spinal cord is also made up of phlegm.
  • One of the advantages of the phlegm is that by the temperature rise in each body part it can turn into the humor of blood and can feed that specific organ, so phlegm can be considered as a kind of food supply for the body.
  • Maintaining or improving flexibility is owed to the humor of phlegm, so very much like other humor phlegm is of great benefits to the body.

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