Traditional Medicine Systems in Asia

The Asian Articles
3 min readMar 24, 2021

written by Dr. Rutuja Dhore and edited by Mariel Bumanglag and Jemima Yoon

Asia is renowned for providing some of the highest quality healthcare facilities and multi-special treatments. According to the World Health Organization, Singapore is ranked 6th and is one of two Asian countries in the top 10 countries for providing the best healthcare facilities. The credit goes to its long, traditional, indigenous medicinal practices which are practiced along with allopathic medicinal practices. Traditional medicine is defined as an indigenous medicinal system used to maintain health, prevent, diagnose, and treat physical and mental illnesses apart from allopathic medicines based on theories, beliefs, and experiences. Traditional medicine systems have been widely used in India, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. People in the Southeast Asian region also have a long history of using traditional medicine for a wide range of health conditions. In some areas, traditional therapies are the main or even only source of health care, particularly in remote areas.

Traditional Medicine System in East Asia

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) — TCM is a branch of traditional medicine in China. The practice includes various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, cupping therapy, gua sha, massage (tui na), bonesetter (die-da), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy. In general, disease is perceived as a disharmony in the functions of yin, yang, qi, xuĕ, zàng-fǔ, meridians, and interaction between the human body and the environment.

Kampo — Japanese traditional medicine, referred to as TOM, uses most of the Chinese therapies including acupuncture and moxibustion, and traditional Chinese herbology, and traditional food therapy.

Traditional Medicine System in South Asia

Ayurveda — Ayurveda is an alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. Therapies are typically based on complex herbal compounds, minerals, and metal substances. Ayurveda texts also taught surgical techniques, including rhinoplasty, kidney stone extractions, sutures, and the extraction of foreign objects. The word “Ayurveda” in Sanskrit means knowledge of life and longevity. Ayurveda regards physical existence, mental existence, and personality as the body’s own unique units, with each element being able to influence others. There is a holistic approach used during diagnosis and therapy, which is a fundamental aspect of Ayurveda. Ayurveda was developed during antiquity and the medieval period and is comparable to pre-modern Chinese and European systems of medicine. Nowadays, Ayurveda has been advertised as alternative medicine in the Western world and it is practiced in Sri Lanka as well.

Siddha — According to the Siddha medicine system, diet and lifestyle plays a major role in health and curing diseases. This concept is termed pathiyam and apathiyam, which is “do’s and don’ts.”

Traditional Medicine System in Southeast Asia:

Jamu — Jamu is a traditional medicine system from Indonesia. It is predominantly a herbal medicine made from natural materials, such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves, and fruits. Materials acquired from animals, such as honey, royal jelly, milk, and ayam kampung eggs are also often used. It can be found throughout Indonesia, however, it is most prevalent in Java.

Traditional Medicine System in West Asia:

Unani Medicine — Unani or “Yunani medicine” is the term for Perso-Arabic traditional medicine as practiced in Muslim culture in South Asia and modern-day Central Asia. Unani medicine is pseudoscientific. The Hellenistic origin of Unani medicine is based on the classical four humours: phlegm (balgham), blood (dam), yellow bile (ṣafrā), and black bile (saudā’), but it has also been influenced by Indian and Chinese traditional systems.


Cover Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

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