Alternative Systems Of Medicine Biology Essay


In recent times, the fact that modern allopathic remedies cause uncomfortable and sometimes harmful side effects has seen many people move towards more traditional systems of medicine like Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. Each of these systems is based on a few principles that are unique in explaining the cause and treatment of diseases and disorders.

As per Hindu tradition, Lord Dhanvantari, a form of Lord Vishnu, is considered the presiding deity of health. The holistic system of treatment propounded by the spiritually exalted holy sages of India is known as Ayurveda. The name Ayurveda is obtained from the words - Ayur meaning "life" and Veda meaning "knowledge or science". Thus, Ayurveda is nothing but the "Science of Life". This system of medicine is said to have evolved over 5000 years ago. The focus in Ayurveda is not just health of the physical body, but an outlook that provides for the self-actualization of man. It is, therefore, a total healthcare system that speaks of the interrelation of the body, mind and soul.

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"Life (ayu) is the combination (samyoga) of body, senses, mind and reincarnating soul. Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond." - Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, (1.42 - 43).


S. NO.





Internal Medicine


Shalakya Tantra

Surgery and treatment of head and neck, Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology


Shalya Tantra



Agada Tantra



Bhuta Vidya







Science of rejuvenation or anti-aging



Science of fertility

Around 15000 BC, Ayurveda was delineated into two distinct schools: Atreya - the school of Physicians and Dhanvantari - the school of Surgeons. This made Ayurveda a more systematically classified medical science. Around 1000 BC, these two schools of thought led to the writing of two major books on Ayurveda - Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita by the sage physicians Charaka and Susruta respectively. The Susruta Samhita comprises the knowledge about prosthetic surgery to replace limbs, cosmetic surgery, caesarian operations and even brain surgery. He is famous for his innovation of cosmetic surgery on the nose or rhinoplasty. Around 500 AD, Vagbhatt compiled the third major treatise on Ayurveda, called the Astanga Hridaya. This treatise compiled information pertaining to both the schools of thought in Ayurveda.


According to Ayurveda, all the objects in the universe, including the human body, are composed of five basic elements (Panchamahabhutas) - namely earth (prithvi), water (aap), fire (tej), air (vayu), and ether (aakash). When these elements are present in a balanced state, the person is said to enjoy good health. The growth and development of the body depends on its nutrition. Food, in turn, is composed of the five elements, which replenish or nourish the like elements of the body after the action of bio-fire (Agni). Whether it is the structural tissues or the physiological humors, they are all a result of the various combinations and permutations of the Panchamahabhutas.


Ayurveda attributes disease and disorder conditions to an imbalance of the three principal humors in the body, called doshas. These doshas are known as wind (vata), bile (pitta) and phlegm (kapha). These fluids pervade the whole microcosm of man. So long as these are in their normal condition, the body remains healthy. When there is any disturbance in their levels, the body suffers from disorders.

Good digestion requires the correct proportion of the three humors. The normal condition of the bowels indicates a predominance of kapha, loose bowels indicate pitta and constipation indicates a preponderance of vata.

A combination of the five elements leads to formation of the Tridoshas or the three basic forces. These are present in every object found in this universe. By a combination of earth and air, the air principle Vata is created; Pitta is created from a combination of fire and water whereas synergy of earth and water produces the water principle Kapha. Each one of us has a particular balance of doshas. Our body's ability to resist disease, and our mental temperament are linked to the doshas that predominate us.

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Prana or the life force in our body is said to flow through the seven chakras or psychic energy centers. This Prana energy is described as being of five types - Udana, Prana, Samana, Apana and Vyana. As per Ayurveda, the blockage in the flow of this energy is responsible for the various diseases in humans. Hence, the treatment procedures consist of avoiding factors that trigger off an imbalance of components.

Ayurveda prescribes the use of specific medicines, a suitable diet, exercise and activity and specific Panchakarma procedures that help to restore the disturbed balance of the body. All these aspects of the treatment regimen are intended to rejuvenate body mechanisms and restore balance so as to build health from within, thus minimizing future incidents of disease.

Panchakarma therapy

This is a mode of therapy generally performed in three stages: the poorva karma, the pradhana karma and the paschata karma.

Poorvakarma is the first stage of this therapy and it involves the initial procedures like the preparing the patient, medicines and equipments. The set of actions used in this can be of three types - Pachana (digestion therapy), Snehana (oleation therapy) and Svedana (sudation therapy - induction of sweating)

Pradhana karma is the next stage of therapy and this is where the drug is actually administered. This includes various treatments like Vamana (emesis), Virechana (purgation), Basti (enema), Nasya or Shirovirechana (nasal insufflation), Raktamokshana or Asravisruthi.

Paschata karma refers to the procedures adopted after the pradhana karma. These are procedures aimed at recuperation following the main treatment like diet, medicines and changes in the daily routine. It can be of three types - Samsarajana karma (specific diet), Rasayanadi karma (particular drugs) and Shamana prayoga (drugs to treat disease after its elimination).

Today, when people are realizing the pitfalls of modern allopathic systems of medicine, Ayurveda is in the forefront of medical research. Using references from ancient texts, researchers are now trying to isolate the active constituents present in particular herbs to find wonder cures for incurable diseases like cancer and AIDS.


The Unani system of medicine originated in Greece. The Greek philosopher-physician Hippocrates (460 - 377 BC) laid the scientific foundation of this system. After Hippocrates, many other Greek scholars contributed to the knowledge base of this system. Galen, Rhazes and Avicenna were some of the scholars who helped build up this system of medicine.

The Arabs introduced this system to India; the Mughal Emperors provided state support to this system. Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868 - 1927) was an active and scholarly practitioner of this system of medicine.


The Unani system, based on the theory of Hippocrates, considers that the balance of "Arkhan" (elements), "Akhlat" (humor) and "Mijaz" (temperament) are the prime requisites for a healthy mind and body.

As per this system, there are four humors in the human body called as - "Dum" (blood), "Bhalgam" (phlegm), "Safra" (yellow bile) and "Soada" (black bile). There is a specific proportion of all these humors in each individual - this is responsible for deciding his state of health. The right humoral balance is maintained by an intrinsic power of self-preservation called the "Quwut - e- Modabira". Any weakening of this power leads to an imbalance in the humoral constitution, which, in turn, leads to disease. Therefore, the treatment in Unani system of medicine consists of using substances that ensure the body regains this power and humoral constitution is restored to its state of balance.

The Unani system prescribed six essential requirements to prevent diseases. These, known as the "Asbabe - Sita - Zarooriya", are air, food and drinks, bodily movements and response, sleep and wakefulness, excretion and retention.


The Unani system relies on simple diet control in the initial stages of uncomplicated illnesses, followed by administration of a single drug. If this treatment fails, a compound preparation is prescribed. These treatment systems are known as "Ilajbit-tadbeer" (regimental therapy), "Ilabjit-ghiza" (dietotherapy), "Ilabjit-dawa" (pharmacotherapy) and "jarahat" (surgery).

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Pharmacotherapy involves the use of natural herbal drugs; animal and mineral drugs are also used. Procedures like diaphoresis, venesection, cupping, cauterization, Turkish bath, purging and emesis are a part of regimental therapy. Dietotherapy includes the treatment of ailments by regulating the quantity and quality of food or by making use of specific diets.


One of the unique characteristics of this system is the manner in which it makes use of the pulse (Nabz) to diagnose conditions. Study of the urine (Baul) and stools (Baraz) are also used in diagnosis of diseases.


The word 'Siddha' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Siddhi' which refers to a goal to be achieved. Great scholars and doctors with vast knowledge of chemistry and medicine were known as Siddhas or Siddhars in Tamil Nadu. They were the propounders of one of the oldest systems of medicine practiced in India. As per traditional Siddha literature, 18 such Siddhas were revered for their knowledge of medicine and therapy. The Siddha system of medicine mainly relies upon the use of minerals and metals in treating various ailments. Siddha, like Ayurveda, propounds a strong connection between the health of the body and the soul. The treatment regimens, therefore, are aimed at healing both entities.


Like Ayurveda, the Siddha system also believes in the system of the three humors - Vata, Pitta and Kapha. A balance of these ensures the good health of an individual.


The diagnosing physician relies upon inputs from eight aspects of the patient's body - general appearance, the tongue, the voice, the eyes, the skin, the pulse, urine and stools. All aspects, except for the voice, are judged by their colour. Voice is judged on the basis of pitch.

One of the major features that distinguish Siddha from Ayurveda is the emphasis on mineral medicines in treatment of disorders. Alchemy is a science that deals with converting lower metals into gold or other form. Siddhars used the principles of alchemy to prepare mineral drugs. The logic behind the use of metals is that preservation of the body is possible only through the use of materials that do not undergo decomposition. Another possible reason for the predominance of metals is the fact that these were more readily available than herbs and hence, physicians preferred to use them.

Medicines used in the Siddha system of medicine are categorized into three classes as Thavaram (herbal origin), Thathu (metal and mineral origin) and Jangamam (animal origin). All these drugs are further classified based on five properties known as Suvai (taste), Gunam (character), Veerya (potency), Pirivu (class) and Mahimai (action).


The word "Homeopathy" is derived from two Greek words - Homois meaning "similar" and pathos meaning "suffering". Thus, Homeopathy refers to the process of treating diseases with remedies that can produce symptoms similar to the disease when taken by healthy people. The basis of this system of medicine is the natural law of healing called "Similia Similibus Curentur", which translates into "like are cured by likes".

It was Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) who gave Homeopathy a scientific basis in the early 19th century. During the course of his experiments with Cinchona bark, Hahnemann observed an interesting phenomenon. The effects produced when he ingested Cinchona bark were almost the same as those experienced by people suffering from malaria. This led him to conclude that similarity is the basis of the cure effected by herbs and that only a drug that produces the symptoms in healthy persons can cure the disease in an afflicted individual. By conducting research on a variety of drugs, Hahnemann arrived at the law of similars. As per the basic principles of Homeopathy, there is a vital force in the human body that's responsible for the maintenance of health. When a drug is administered, it produces artificial symptoms that activate this vital force to eliminate the original disease symptoms. These artificial symptoms cease when dosing with the drug is stopped.


The system of Homeopathy is based on a few laws:

Law of Similars: It is also called the Law of Cure. This law demonstrates that the selected remedy is able to produce a range of symptoms in a healthy person similar to that observed in the patient, thus leading to the principle of like cures like.

Law of Single remedy: This law directs the practitioner to administer only one remedy at a time. The drug chosen should address the predominant symptom complex of the sick person. Most of the remedies used in Homeopathy were proved active when taken singly. A combination of two or more remedies is therefore considered as a new remedy, requiring further research before it can be administered to patients. Besides, this is one of the only ways to be able to identify the curative element accurately. Homeopathy also believes that although co-administration of remedies may have a synergistic effect, the probability of adverse effects cannot be ruled out entirely.

Law of Minimum dose: The remedy is to be administered at dose levels that are so small as to prevent a toxic effect on the body.The principle of dilutions (or "law of minimum dose") states that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. In Homeopathy, there is a stepwise dilution of drugs, with vigorous shaking between dilutions. This process is called as "potentization". It is considered that this process transfers some of the initial energy from the starting substance to the final diluted form that is administered to the patient. One of the common complaints of modern scientists against this system arises based on this principle. They contend that the actual concentration of active ingredients in the diluted remedy is so small as to be negligible, and question the basis of the cure. Homeopathic practitioners however, believe that even the most dilute of remedies retain an imprint of the original drug. This theory, called as the "memory of water" believes this imprint stimulates the self-healing properties of the body.

Preparation of remedies

The drugs used in homeopathic treatment are called remedies.

These are prepared by a process of multiple dilutions, called as potentisation. It is considered that including a greater number of stages of potentisation increases the therapeutic potential of the remedy. Two methods are used to prepare these remedies - multiple vial method and single vial method. The initial solution from which dilution is begun is known as the mother tincture. Compounds that are insoluble are rendered soluble through processes like trituration, grinding and mixing with lactose powder.

Selection of the potency of the product to be administered to the patient depends on various factors such as the nature of the disease condition (acute/chronic, physical/emotional). Besides this, the vitality of the patient along with the degree of confidence the prescriber has regarding a particular cure are also taken into account before prescribing a remedy. If there are multiple symptoms presented in the patient, the cure proceeds along the direction from most important to less important organs, from within the body to outside and from top to bottom. The cure is aimed at causing a removal of symptoms in reverse chronological order of their appearance.


Traditional Chinese medicine believes in the existence of two elements called Yin and Yang whose proportions are in a delicate state of balance at any given point of time. Disturbance of this balance is the origin of disease. All body organs contain an element of Yin and Yang, although one organ may be more Yang in its nature, whilst the other is more Yin. Hence, this system believes that correcting the imbalance is the key to curing an ailment.

Traditional Chinese medicine believes that the human body is capable of effecting its own cures, provided it is needled or pushed at particular places. This is the theory behind techniques like Acupuncture and Acupressure.

This system of medicine proposes the existence of a series of channels that carry and distribute vital energy called as Qi, throughout the body. If there's any obstruction to the flow of Qi through these channels, it can lead to disease. There can be occasions when strain can damage the very integrity of the channels. Such diseases are known as 'Bi' or pain. Every organ of the body is represented by one specific channel. Therefore, it follows that applying pressure or needles on the acupuncture points on the channel representing a specific organ can cure the disorders related to that organ selectively.


Aromatherapy is a the use of volatile materials obtained from plant sources. These volatile materials are also called as essential oils due to the essence they contain. Most of these volatile oils are strongly antimicrobial in action. Recent advances prove their efficacy in the management of pain and nervous symptoms like anxiety and depression. The effects of essential oils are explained by two mechanisms. The first is the actual therapeutic effect of the oil. The second is in terms of the influence that aroma is found to exert on the limbic system of the brain through the olfactory system.

Action of oil



Clove oil, tea tree oil, cinnamon oil and rosemary oil


Sandalwood oil, peppermint oil, ginger oil and lemongrass oil


Lavender oil, tea tree oil, clove oil and juniper oil


Eucalyptus oil, bay leaf oil, clove oil and cinnamon oil


Ayurveda is the knowledge of life, based on the concept of Panchamahbhutas and Tridoshas, with importance attached to health of the body, mind and spirit.

Unani postulates that the balance of Arkhan, Akhlat and Mijaz are the prime requisites for a healthy mind and body. It also believes in the existence of a self-preservative power, which strives to restore any disturbance within the body.

Siddha, which is popular in Tamil Nadu, is very similar to Ayurveda, except for the stress on mineral drugs.

Homeopathy is based on the principles of like cures like, single remedies and minimum dosage.

Traditiona Chinese System of Medicine is based on the co-existence of two elements called Yin and Yang, which need to be in a state of balance to ensure good health. It makes use of acupuncture and acupressure along with herbs to remove blockages in the flow of energy through channels in the body.

Aromatherapy makes use of essential oils from plant sources to have specific antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects. It is also being studied for its influence on the emotional well being of patients.


Give the principles of Ayurveda and Siddha system of medicine.

Explain the principles involved in Chinese and Unani system of medicine.

What are the basic principles of Siddha?

Explain the different treatments in Ayurveda.

What is the meaning of Unani Tibb system.

Explain the concepts of homeopathy.

What is Qi in Chinese medicine?

What are the different divisions of Ayurveda?

Explain the principles of Aromatherapy.

What are the modes of application of essential oils in aromatherapy?