Humoral Medicine holds that the human body is filled with four basic substances, called humours, which are held in balance when a person is healthy. All diseases and disabilities result from an excess or deficit in one of these four humors. When a person has a surplus of one fluid then that person’s personality, and eventually health, is affected.
History of Persian Humoral Medicine
Persian Humoral Medicine is based on the works of Avicenna (980 to 1037 A.D.). Avicenna was a brilliant man known as the “Prince of Physicians”. Born in Persia, he had learned the entire Koran and mastered grammar by the age of ten. He went on to study and master physics, medicine and metaphysics by the age of eighteen.
He was a masterful doctor, scholar, and writer much favored by the rulers of the land. He wrote prolifically and deeply on many subjects including philosophy, logic, psychology, cosmology, and metaphysics. He also composed many small treatises dealing with aspects of physics, meteorology, zoology, botany, and geology. In addition to these his scientific and philosophical works, he wrote several famous poems and commentaries on religious subjects. Avicenna sought to harmonize science and divine revelation.
In 1012 Avicenna began writing his great medical text The Canon of Medicine, which is perhaps the most influential single work ever written in the history of medicine. Still taught in the East today, it explains the principals of Islamic medicine in rhyming verses that are easy to memorize and dissertations in both Persian and Arabic on various diseases and drugs. It forms the basis of Persian Humoral Medicine.
Avicenna’s Definition of Medicine
Excerpts from The Canon of Medicine
#7: Medicine is the science by which we learn the various states of the human body in health and when not in health, and the means by which health is likely to be lost and, when lost, is likely to be restored back to health. In other words, it is the art whereby health is conserved and the art whereby it is restored after being lost.
The only way to restore a person to health, according to Avicenna, was to determine the causes of both health and disease.
#12: Medicine deals with the states of health and disease in the human body. It is a truism of philosophy that a complete knowledge of a thing can only be obtained by elucidating its causes and antecedents, provided, of course, such causes exist. In medicine it is, therefore, necessary that causes of both health and disease should be determined.
#13: Sometimes these causes are obvious to the senses but at other times they may defy direct observation. In such circumstances, causes and antecedents have to be carefully inferred from the signs and symptoms of the disease. Hence, a description of the signs and symptoms of disease is also necessary for our purpose. It is a dictum of the exact sciences that knowledge of the causes and origins of the causes — assuming there to be causes and origins. Consequently our knowledge cannot be complete without an understanding both of symptoms and of the principles of being.
#14: There are four causes — material, efficient, formal and final. On the subject of health and disease, we have the following:
Avicenna’s Four Causes of Disease
The Material Causes
#15: The material cause is the physical body which is the subject of health and disease. This may be immediate as the organs of body together with their vital energies and remote as the humors and remoter than these, the elements which are the basis both for structure and change (or dynamicity) …
In traditional medicine, the primary constituents of the human body are called elements. These are the basic building blocks for the science of medicine.
The four elements — earth, air, fire and water — are the primary qualities of our bodies. Each has two assigned qualities:
Fire and water are opposites. However, air can serve as a medium and join the two because it shares a quality of each; it shares the quality of heat with fire, and the quality of moisture with water. (See diagram above). Earth can also balance fire and water because it shares a quality of each. The same is true of the opposites, earth and air. Water can serve as a balancing medium here as water contains moisture (like air) and coldness (like earth). Fire could also balance earth and air as it contains heat (like air) and dryness (like earth).
- Hot and cold are considered active elemental qualities.
- Moisture and dryness are considered passive elemental qualities.
- Health comes when the strength of the primary qualities are in balance. When one quality predominates, stress and ill health can result.Simply put:
- Slow and heavy movement signifies a predominance of cold and dryness (earth)
- Fearfulness and sluggishness suggests excess of cold and wet (water)
- Cheerfulness indicates heat and wetness (air)
- Anger, aggressiveness, and violence indicate heat and dryness (fire)The elements are dynamic and have direction. All the elements point to each other — attract and are attracted. To achieve health, the elements must be balanced.
The Efficient Causes
Efficient causes develop out of the nurturing process.
#16: The efficient causes are capable of either preventing or inducing change in the human body. They may be external to the person or internal. External causes are: age, sex, occupation, residence and climate … Internal causes are sleep and wakefulness, evacuation of secretions, the changes at different periods of life in occupation, habits and customs, ethnic group and nationality.
The Formal Causes
#17: The formal causes are three: temperaments (or that pattern of constitution as a whole) and the faculties or drives which emerge from it …
Arises from the interaction of elements and humours and determines the way in which the soul functions. Each organ of the body has its own temperament.
Faculties or Drives:
Vital: responsible for preserving the integrity of the breath (vital force or life), sensation and movement of the heart
Natural: governing the nutritive powers of the liver and reproductive powers of the reproductive organs
Animal: controlling the brain and rational faculty.
We know these faculties only through their effects. They work through the physical body without ever touching it.
The Final Causes
#18: The final causes are the actions of functions. They can be understood only from knowledge of both the faculties or drives and the vital energies that are ultimately responsible for them.
The Four Humours
The humours are the primary fluids of the body which move within it.
Food and drink are transformed into heat through the digestive process. The humours arise in the liver during the second stage of digestion. The four humours sustain and nourish the body as they move through their channels; sanguineous (blood), serous (phlegm), bilious (choler, yellow bile) and atrabilious (melancholy, black bile). These correspond to air, water, fire and earth.
In a “normal” state, the humours are assimilated by the organs and completely integrated into the tissues. In an “abnormal” state, often due to poor digestion, some material is unable to be assimilated and must be eliminated by the body. Exercise, bathing, purges, coition and laxatives may help eliminate excesses.
Season – Spring
Element – Air
Organ – Liver
Qualities – Warm & Moist
Temperament – Sanguine
Characteristics – Courageous, Hopeful, Amorous
Season – Winter
Element – Water
Organ – Brain & Lungs
Qualities – Cold & Moist
Temperament – Phlegmatic (a.k.a. Serous)
Characteristics – Calm, Unemotional
Season – Summer
Element – Fire
Organ – Gall Bladder
Qualities – Warm & Dry
Temperament – Choleric
Characteristics – Easily Angered, Bad Tempered
Season – Autumn
Element – Earth
Organ – Spleen
Qualities – Cold & Dry
Temperament – Melancholic
Characteristics – Despondent, Sleepless, Irritable
Choleric (Yellow Bile)
Choleric is hot and dry, yellow and bitter. It corresponds to the fluid of yellow bile, the season of summer and the element of air. A person who is choleric is easily angered or bad tempered. This humour prevents the body from becoming heavy, sleepy and dull. In over abundance a person described as “choleric” would be mean-spirited, suspicious, and angry.
Melancholia is earthy, thick, black and sour. This humour feeds the bones, the spleen and other parts of the body which are “melancholy” in nature. It tempers the two hot humours (sanguineous and bilious). When the atrabilious humour is in too much abundance melancholia, characterized by aversion to food, despondency, sleeplessness, irritability, restlessness and depression could result. It is now generally believed that melancholia is the same phenomenon as clinical depression
Phlegmatic is watery, cold, moist and white. It moderates the strength, heat and thickness of blood, nourishes the brain and moistens such parts of the body that are involved with motion. A phlegmatic person is calm and unemotional.
Sanguine pertains to the blood and is hot and moist. It imparts strength and colour to the body. The characteristics of a sanguine temperament are courage, hopefulness and amorousness.
At our clinic your physical and emotional condition is assessed to figure out your element, temperament and other characteristics which will help us find out the causes of your symptoms which in turn assists us to determine the necessary therapies.