Beyond satiation: the spectrum of food-drug in traditional persian medicine and its clinical importance in personalized nutrition

Majid Anushiravani,1,*

1. Department of Persian Medicine, school of persian and complementary medicine, Mashhad university of medical sciences



Personalized medicine and personalized nutritional approaches are constantly growing to fill the missing aspects of the current linear understanding and one-sided clinical practices that neglect the complexity of dynamic interaction between food and real consumers as persons with different genotypes and phenotypes, different microbiome, different environments, habits, emotions, preferences and behaviors that interactively lead to different responses to nutrients. the new researches and models in nutrigenetics, proteomix, exposome studies, metabolomix and nutrigenomix, and also finding foods as functional entities all indicate the necessity of changing the routine nutritional advices and services to a more effective individualized health providing. interestingly the teaching of ancient sage physicians in persia (like avicenna) basically relies on the understanding of food-consumer complex interaction which considers the nutri-pharmaceutical spectrum of edible things from one hand, and personal bio-psychological temperament (mizaj) on the other hand. this article will try to present a part of the nutritional approach by ancient hakims and explain the concept of functional foods from the perspective of traditional persian medicine.


In this review, the reliable manuscripts of traditional persian medicine (especially canon of medicine by avicenna) searched for the words and statements related to food classification. then the textual findings analyzed, categorized, compared and interpreted.


Based on the literature of traditional persian medicine, the live human body has two essential needs for healthy survival: the sustainability of various corporeal structures, and continuity of their bio-psychological functions. one of the main ways to meet both of these needs is consuming the proper edible things with both nutritive benefits to keep the structures, and pharmacologic effects to promote various functions in accordance to the person temperament. based on the teachings of ancient sage physicians in persia, edible things can be categorized from different aspects, including their potential effects on structural- functional states of the body. in general, eatable and drinkable things may serve the body in a wide spectrum from nutritive suppliers to medicinal agents. this spectrum includes at least four main types of edible things as follows: 1. “absolutely nutritive”: supply structural needs like meat, bread, etc. 2. “nutritive-medicinal”: mainly supply structural needs and have metabolic effects, with less pharmaceutical actions, like milk and dairy products, ripe fruits (like grape, berry, quince, and pomegranate), some nuts (almond), honey, some vegetables (like lettuce, purselane, carrot, etc). 3. “medicinal-nutritive”: mainly act as pharmaceutical agents, with less nutritive supply, including some vegetables like celery, basil, garlic, onion, etc. 4. “absolutely medicinal”: cause functional changes in the body systems, like culinary spices including pepper, ginger, saffron, thyme, etc. the “absolutely nutritive” foods (like meat) finally convert to tissues without changing the physio-psychological state of the body, while “absolutely medicinal” ones affect the physio-psychological situation of the body; for example, saffron can accelerate the heart rhythm, and nerve conduction velocity just like a drug. in between these two absolute ends, there are two types of edible things with both effects more or less. for example in “nutritive-medicinal” type, quince mainly converts to bodily structures, and also can increase the tonicity of lower esophageal sphincter, and improve the food transit from the stomach to intestine. in the “medicinal-nutritive” type, onion can supply the structures to some extent and also has pharmaceutical effects like diuresis and vasodilation


The categorization of edible things in tpm, has not just a theoretical value, but leads to important practical outcomes. in fact the majority of pharmaceutical actions of foods are attributed to their inner qualities i.e. hotness, coldness, wetness, and dryness. these qualities are mainly responsible for the medicinal actions of “absolutely medicinal”, “nutritive-medicinal”, and “medicinal-nutritive” foods; so the physician should consider these categories and concerns the innate bio-psychological temperament (mizaj) of any individual, and his/her the requirements in health and illness to design appropriate personal regimens for health promotion or disease relief. regarding the compatibility between the food type and the consumer temperament is so essential in designing an individualized life style for healthy aging and longevity, and personal diet therapy in chronic diseases especially metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disorders, and psychological ailments. merging the concepts and teachings of persian hakims with new studies and researches can help us to design more precise nutritional protocols for the sick people and to improve salutogenesis.


Traditional persian medicine, functional foods, temperament, personalzed nutrition