Root Causes of Disease

Previously with regard to understanding the causation of disease I discussed and explained how each person's constitution can explain the nature of symptoms, a predisposition to certain root syndromes and also the nature or tabiyat / طبيعة of an individual. I also explained that this is the first aspect we must identify, i.e the constitution of the patient, before we are able to proceed further. Often by only identifying the constitution we are able to already treat the patient using the treatment methods I have advised for each constitution.

But this is not the end of diagnosis. As i mentioned previously, in traditional Islamic Medicine we are primarily concerned with the root syndrome that is in fact the underlying "root cause" of the presenting signs and symptoms.

In this lecture however I am not going to speak about the root syndromes just yet as I want to speak about the root causes of illness in general and then explain what type of root syndrome they usually effect.

The spiritual, emotional, physical (i.e injury related) and environmental causes of diseases are discussed in seperate lectures so here I will discuss the following causes of disease and what root syndromes they are responsible for:

  1. Diet
  2. Sexual activity
  3. Physical activity
  4. Constitution (Already discussed, only mentioned here for categorisation)


Miqdam ibn Ma’d reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ , say, “There is no vessel which the son of Adam can fill that is more evil than his stomach, for it is enough for him to take a few bites in order to straighten his back. Yet if he is overcome by appetite, then he may fill it with a third of food, a third of drink, and a third of breath.” (Sunan ibn Majah)

In other ahadeeth the Prophet ﷺ has also indicated with regard to the diet and eating habits, specifically discouraging overeating.

In fact the main principle with regard to diet is to avoid overeating.

This has multiple aspects. One is general overeating irrespective of the time of the day and the type of food. This is the aspect that was most relevant during the time of the Prophet ﷺ and up to about 100 years ago. During this time the intake of sugar and fast foods was not a problem and in fact only in the past 100 years has the consumption of these unhealthy foods skyrocketed. In the past mostly royalty would suffer from obesity and related disease. Even though obesity was not prevalent during the time of the Prophet ﷺ, we were already given the solution to the problem of obesity by our Prophet ﷺ who had more knowledge of these matters than all the scientists and researchers combined. The simple act of stopping while one is still able to eat more is the best way to prevent overeating and interestingly science has now discovered that it takes some 20 minutes after a meal to turn off the hunger signals. That means if you continue eating until you are full you have already eaten for 20 minutes longer than you needed. If you had stopped earlier you would still feel satiated by the time your hormonal and nervous system responsible for the hunger signal registers the food intake.

Nowadays though the matter is not so simple and this is another reason why this course was developed, i.e to also update the practice of Islamic medicine to take into account current trends. This does not mean ignoring the prophetic advice, rather re-applying and reviving it in these modern times.

In the last 100 years there has been a steady increase in the amount of calories we consume and while this is not the only factor behind the parallel rates of obesity incline, we need to question why. When we do there are two factors that are clear, our sugar consumption rates have trebled and food, particularly junk food has become cheap and widely available in a multitude of forms.

The injunction of Qur'aan is to eat from the طيبات، i.e the good, the healthy, the pure foods. Today on average 50% of our food is not from this category and for many the ratio is even worse. This type of food while hamrful in itself has the added effect of CAUSING us to overeat. Foods high in sugar, such as all junk foods cause high levels of insulin in the body which in turn drive food cravings. This, combined with the easy and cheap access to junk foods further worsens the cycle of overeating junk foods.

What this does is cause damage to the main organs responsible for food intake and digestion, i.e the stomach, the pancreas/spleen complex, the large intestine and to a lesser extent the lungs.

When a person overeats, especially sweet foods, this increases the heat of the stomach and damages the pancreas/spleen system making it cold, damp and weak.

Overeating alone however is not the only dietary problem. When we eat and what we eat also affects the health of the body.

Eating before sleeping and eating before taking a bath are detrimental to health and have been discouraged in the sunnah as well. Eating before sleeping has long been recognised as one of the causes of diabetes in traditional medical philosophy and is now recognised in western medicine as well as a cause of high insulin and insulin resistance states.

In terms of Islamic medicine we say that it produces heat in the stomach as well as weakens the digestive organs.

Eating before bathing is also detrimental as after eating more blood flows to the digestive organs to enable the process of digestion & transport of food. When one bathes excess blood (which was at the digestive organs) now goes to the periphery as the arteries dilate. This leaves the digestive system deficient in blood and unable to transport and digest properly. This leads to a general weakness of the body and also a stagnation syndrome which can be of food and also blood stasis. In terms of western medicine this can lead to certain bowel and stomach cancers.

With regard to the types of food that cause illness, this is well known for those who follow the nutrition literature. The biggest problem nowadays is the excess of sugar and refined carbohydrates in our diets, thereafter one needs to look at fried foods and artificial ingredients and preservatives as causative factors in illness. Much information on this field is available online.

The root syndromes related to diet as a causative factor are as follows:

Stomach heat - Cravings for sweet foods, Epigastric pain (stomach ulcer type, worse for hunger), constipation, dry mouth a/or throat, thirst.

Stomach fire - Constant hunger, painful, swollen a/or bleeding gums, regurgitation a/or vomiting likely after eating, burning sensation in the epigastrium, nausea, constipation.

Weak بطن (Spleen/pancreas) - Poor appetite, bloating after eating, weakness of the four limbs, fatigue, loose stools.

Cold بطن - A further progression of weak بطن above with more cold signs viz. cold limbs, chilliness, inability to tolerate cold foods, edema

Excessive sexual activity

Nowadays this is a very common problem amongst the youth who due to masturbation are suffering from many illnesses. The biggest problem with excessive sexual activity especially for men is the loss of essence or congenital qudra. As mentioned in the lecture on essence we say that it takes a 100 morsels of food to produce one drop of blood and one hundred drops of blood to produce one drop of essence. Excessive sexual activity leads to essence insufficiency which further causes problems in blood and qudra production and generally affects the whole body, the specific root syndrome is the following:

Kidney essence insufficiency:

In children poor physical a/or mental development will be seen, in adults a weakening of the bones, teeth, back a/or knees, memory problems, a/or a lowering of the libido/ability can be seen.

Excessive physical activity

Today science also admits that too much physical exercise if bad for the body and in fact it amazes me that whereas in the past slaves and prisoners were made to carry large rocks we now do this voluntarily in the gyms etc and pay to do it.

Excessive physical activity weakens the body's blood and qudra and consumes the essence.