By Seyed Mahdi Mirghazanfari, MD, PhD

Iranian traditional medicine: Eat a varied, well-balanced diet

April 21, 2018

Over the previous articles the broad definition of the temperaments (Mizaj in Persian), their specifications, food and drinks producing the four humors, also called ‘Akhlat’ in Persian, in the body or formation of excessive amounts of the humors in the body leading to mal-temperament or Sou-e Mizaj, and most importantly healthy lifestyle tips suiting people with different temperaments were given.

Here are some complementary tips on temperaments, humors, and the difference between the body parts regarding their needs and the fact that which humor they mainly feed on. 

If mal-temperament is sparked by a rise in the amount of a humor the condition is called “material mal-temperament” as a material (humor) has climbed in the body which normally should not. Typically those who are suffering material mal-temperament feel tired and sluggish, especially people with increased humor of blood or phlegm. 

Temperaments; mal-temperament  

People suffering excessive humor of "blood" have similar symptoms to people with warm and wet temperament (sanguine). Likewise, people suffering excessive "phlegm" resemble people with cold and wet temperament (phlegmatic). People experiencing discomfort due to excessive "black bile" share the same symptoms with people with cold and dry temperament (melancholic). And lastly, those who suffer from health conditions resulted from excessive "yellow bile" are very much like people with warm and dry temperament (choleric).

This is why one should take a heed in consuming food and drinks which might lead to excessive formation of each of the four aforementioned humors in the body as excessive amounts of each humor in the body would also intensify the temperament pertaining to that humor.

For instance, overeating food stuff and drinks with warming characteristics (warm temperament), deep fried food, spicy food, etc. would both increase yellow bile in the body as well as exacerbating the symptoms of choleric temperament which are increased warmness and dryness.

Similarly, eating too much food and drinks with cooling characteristics in addition to water and watery foods and fruits would not only increase the amounts of phlegm in the body, but also aggravate symptoms of phlegmatic temperament, hence, cause an upswing of coldness and wetness in the body.  

Furthermore consuming too much canned food, leftovers, sauces, old meat, fast foods, and pickled fruits and vegetables would both produce excessive amounts of black bile in the body and develop symptoms of melancholic temperament which means an upsurge of coldness and dryness in the body. 

And finally eating large quantities of red meat, bread, rice, fatty food stuff, and sweets would increase the humor of blood in the body and at the same time bring about symptoms of sanguine temperament by enhancing warmness and wetness in the body. 

For example, one day the patient may feel so hot, another day he or she feels drowsy. Once his or her skin might get dry and deal with dry nose. People suffering mal-temperament may feel fatigue and even suffer from sleep disorders or negative thoughts. In such cases one is said to suffer from"mal-temperament", also called "Sou-e Mizaj". It means that one or two of the four qualities of warmness, coldness, dryness, and wetness have increased which can be accompanied by a rise in one of the four humors including black bile, blood, phlegm, and yellow bile. 

In order to prevent such health conditions it is important to reconsider our lifestyle, and diet along with abstaining from food stuff which could be harmful to people’s main temperaments.

If mal-temperament is sparked by a rise in the amount of a humor the condition is called “material mal-temperament” as a material (humor) has climbed in the body which normally should not. Typically those who are suffering material mal-temperament feel tired and sluggish, especially people with increased humor of blood or phlegm. 

People suffering constipation, women with abnormal uterine bleeding particularly low menstrual bleeding, people with absent sweating or those who hold urine are more prone to suffer such symptoms as humors and waste materials might build up in their bodies. If so, they have to first treat their excretory system diseases.

Different organs, different humors 

Each body part principally feeds on a certain humor, so it is highly important to have a varied, well-balanced diet. In other words we have to consume almost all food and drinks, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, beans and grains, which are created by God, over our lifetime as we need all the four humors in our bodies. 

However, the amount and proportion of each food stuff and drink is different for every person as people have distinguished temperaments and that’s the key concept of Iranian traditional medicine.

For instance, not all people are allowed to consume the same amount of red meat, water or dairy products as people differ from one another regarding their physical and mental characteristics.  But everyone should consume all foods and drinks with care considering their individual characteristics. 

As eating all foods and drinks moderately and in accordance with one’s temperament can result in having healthy organs overeating or not eating can result in diseases and harm organs.

Heart mainly lives on the humor of blood and also yellow bile, to some extent, as a source of energy. Human heart is warm and dry and in case one uses food stuff with warm and dry temperament such as deep fried food, spicy food or salty food, they might experience palpitation. 

In contrast, consuming too much food with cold and wet temperament such as yoghurt, lettuce, water, and watery or sour fruits can result in weakened heart muscles, heart valve prolapse, varicose veins, and edema.

Other organs such as liver, spleen, kidneys and muscles which are normally big and red in color also feed on humor of blood and have warm and wet temperaments so eating too much food which result in formation of humor of blood in the body, such as red meat, bread, rice or fatty foods, can result in sluggishness, and extreme fatigue while not consuming them can lead to malfunction of the aforesaid organs. 

Organs such as brain and spinal cord have cold and wet temperament and they mainly feed on phlegm. Foods that are watery and slimy such as soups, broths, and sour stews containing vegetables, water from boiled Kaleh pache (dish of boiled cow or sheep's feet and/or head) or tripe (edible lining from the stomachs of sheep), and consuming too much rice without bran can result in overly produced phlegm in the body and accordingly memory loss, dizziness, difficulty learning or remembering something.

On the other hand sleep deprivation, stress, and irritability can be symptoms of lack of phlegm in the body.

Bony tissues mainly rely for nourishment on black bile more than the others. The right amounts of black bile keep bones healthy and strong and that’s why bones, teeth, hair, fingernails and tendons primarily live off black bile. 

Eating too much food which can lead to formation of black bile in the body and heavy foods such as eggplant, lentil, leftovers, fast foods, and kashk (a kind of dairy product fabricated from the liquid yoghurt) could result in excessive production of black bile which leaves harmful residues in the whole body. This abnormal, excessive amounts of black bile cannot properly provide hair, fingernail and bones with nutrition and would contribute to darkening of the skin and developing brown skin patches (caused by black bile residues in the skin and brain), muscle cramps (as a result of black bile residues in muscles), peeling and breaking of the fingernails, and frizzy, lifeless, and dull hair. 

So it is very important to have a varied diet and becoming vegetarian or vegan or not eating fruits and vegetables and overeating meats are all wrong and can harm the body and result in diseases. 

It is worth mentioning that varied diet doesn’t mean having all kinds of food and drinks in one single meal but to consume all kinds of food stuff in your lifetime.

However, it is recommended to have one kind of food and a foodstuff that can moderate the temperament of the food in a meal. 

Seyed Mahdi Mirghazanfari, MD, holds a PhD degree in medical physiology and is an Iranian-Islamic traditional medicine researcher. He is also an assistant professor in AJA University of Medical Sciences, Tehran. 

MQ/MG

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