Shilajit is a nutrient-rich biomass that oozes from rocks in the Himalayas. Long considered a panacea in Ayurveda, purified Shilajit is made of an intriguing mixture of synergistic compounds. It acts a rejuvenator, antioxidant, adaptogen, and an aphrodisiac. Read on to understand how it may work and how to tell properly purified supplements apart from dangerous low-quality products.
What is Shilajit?
Shilajit is a nutrient- and mineral-rich biomass, often classified as a herbomineral due to the complex and eclectic nature of its active compounds. As odd as it may sound, this curious gummy-like organic mass is produced by the mountains. Its color ranges from pale brown to brownish-black and pours out of layers of rocks in many mountain ranges of the world, but it most well-known and cherished in the Himalayas [R].
Given its somewhat mystical origins, it’s no surprise that Shilajit became an essential remedy in many systems of traditional medicine. Shilajit has been called “An Ancient Panacea” and a “miraculous gift of God”. And as most alleged panaceas, Shilajit was renowned for its rejuvenating effects. It has been used as a general tonic, adaptogen and anti-stress remedy among folk healers [R].
“Shilajit” is a Sanskrit word that translates to “Conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness” or alternatively “the Winner of rocks”. According to Ayurveda, its properties can heal virtually all illnesses.
After such appraisal, the appearance and taste of Shilajit may disappoint some. This gooey matter is bitter in taste and has an odor reminiscent of cow’s urine. Shilajit is processed by various supplement manufactures and sold as capsules or powder [R].
- Rich in minerals and active compounds
- Strong rejuvenator
- Supports energy use and detox
- Natural testosterone booster
- Reduces stress and enhances cognition
- High-quality purified Shilajit is hard to find
- Most products on the market contain toxins
- Clinical studies are lacking
Shilajit is made of hummus (60 – 80%) and organic plant materials that have been compressed by layers of rocks over time. High pressure and blazing heat metamorphize these organic compounds. The warmer temperatures in the summer melt Shilajit, causing it to ooze from cracks in the rocks [R].
Shilajit contains [R]:
- Over 84 types of minerals, including most essential minerals
- Fulvic acid, the main active ingredient
- Humic acid (and uronic acids)
- Other plant and microbial metabolites (such as dibenzo-alphapyrones)
- Small peptides and amino acids
- Some lipids
- Phenolic glycosides
Fulvic acid acts as a carrier molecule in the body, helping to transport nutrients into the deep tissues and remove deep-seated toxins. Bioactive compounds in Shilajit also amplify the benefits and bioavailability of other herbs [R].
Shilajit also supports energy production and tissue recovery, improves blood flow, and reduces the negative impact of psychological and physical stress. Although recent research points to fulvic acid and plant metabolites as the main carriers of the benefits, the complex mixture in Shilajit as a whole probably contains many compounds that act in synergy [R, R+].
Types and Origins of Shilajit
The exact composition of Shilajit is influenced by factors such as [R+]:
- Plant varieties that get incorporated into its mass (Sullu spurge, white clover, liverworts, mountain mosses, and others). Mosses are especially rich in minerals and metals such as copper, silver, zinc, and iron
- Quality of the soil
- Geographical origin of the rock
- Local temperatures
For example, Shilajit from North India is higher in fulvic acids (~21%) than Shilajit from
Nepal (~15%), Pakistan (~15%), and Russia (~19%). However, Shilajit from Nepal is higher in other bioactive compounds [R+].
Four different varieties have been described [R+]:
- Gold Shilajit, which is actually reddish in color (Savrana)
- Silver Shilajit, white in color (Rajat)
- Copper Shilajit, blue in color (Tamra)
- Iron-containing Shilajit, brownish-black in color (Lauha)
Gold and copper varieties are very rare. The most common, and supposedly most effective variety, is iron-containing Shilajit.
Despite scientific research and traditional use, the exact origin of Shilajit still remains a mystery. Given that it takes a long time to mature and is spontaneously collected, current theories are the best guess scientists could make. The process of making Shilajit was never scientifically replicated or confirmed [R+].
Proper Purification vs. Low-quality Products
Mycotoxins produced by mold or fungi can cause illness. Heavy metals can accumulate in vital organs and cause serious long-term health complications. Free radicals can damage cells and are an underlying cause of many diseases. That’s why it is crucial for Shilajit to be purified before it can be consumed.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers are selling Shilajit that has not undergone any kind of purification or quality control. Most other supplements sold as Shilajit are probably something else or contain very small amounts of Shilajit and numerous additives. Improper manufacturing processes can result in dangerously high levels of toxic compounds.
The government of Canada warned consumers in 2005 not to use Shilajit, as Indian Ayurvedic Products were found to contain dangerously high levels of heavy metal (such as lead, mercury, and arsenic). Measures were taken to remove most of these products from the market, especially those produced by Dabur India Ltd.
With this in mind, make sure you buy Shilajit from a trusted source and ask for a Certificate of Analysis.
Health Benefits of Shilajit
Note: The remaining studies were all conducted on animals or cells.
1) Helps with Chronic Fatigue
Chronic fatigue syndrome can completely impair your ability to function normally, as people who suffer from it experience extreme tiredness, poor cognition, pain, and disturbed sleep. A possible underlying cause is dysregulation of the HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis, the main pathway that responds to long-term stress in the body [R, R].
The HPA axis can have such a profound impact on energy, cognition, and the circadian rhythm, that rebalancing it should be the main goal in people with chronic fatigue. Shilajit could restore the HPA axis and reduce chronic fatigue syndrome in rats. It reduced tiredness and anxiety while preventing excessive drops in cortisol levels and adrenal weight [R].
Shilajit may target another important contributor to chronic fatigue – malfunctioning mitochondria. These tiny powerhouses produce all energy in cells. If your mitochondria are not working well, you may feel a lack of energy and other symptoms of chronic fatigue. Shilajit could support mitochondrial health and prevent their damage in rats with chronic fatigue [R].
2) Boosts Testosterone and Fertility in Men
Shilajit is traditionally used for improving reproductive health in men. However, it wasn’t until recent clinical trials that its specific effects on boosting testosterone and fertility in men were confirmed.
In a clinical trial of healthy men, purified Shilajit (250 mg twice a day) for 3 months increased total and free testosterone, as well as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS) [R].
3) May Reduce Inflammation
Humic and Fulvic Acid, both found in Shilajit, may reduce neutrophils and inflammation in the body. Potassium humate from Shilajit blocks complement activation, which reduces the level of numerous inflammatory substances (cytokines like TNF-a, IL-1b, IL-6, and IL-10) in cells [R].
4) May Help Fight Addictions
The mix of active compounds in Shilajit may help people overcome addictions, but more research is needed. In one study on mice, Shilajit reduced the symptoms of withdrawal while also helping to curb addictive behavior. It acted by altering dopamine levels in the limbic system (cortico-hippocampal), a brain region that controls emotions [R].
Shilajit also offers hope for fighting the opioid epidemic while helping those with incurable diseases get pain relief. It’s a well-known fact that opioids like morphine quickly cause tolerance, which causes people to require higher and higher doses. Shilajit could reduce the risk of developing tolerance to morphine in mice [R].
5) Supports Gut Health
As an antioxidant, Shilajit may protect the body from stomach damage caused by oxidative damage and inflammation. Fulvic acid found in this biomass may also reduce stomach acid and pepsin secretion in the stomach in rats, which lowers the risk of ulcers [R, R].
6) May Keep Your Heart Healthy
Humic acid, found in Shilajit, may also help lower blood fats, which reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. In rats, humic acid reduced total cholesterol and total fats in the blood while boosting the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol [R].
7) May Protect the Brain
Head injuries can damage blood vessels in the brain, increase oxidative stress, and cause long-term health problems. Shilajit may help reduce damage to the brain and speed up recovery by increasing antioxidant levels, according to animal studies. Additionally, it may improve brain blood flow and reduce high pressure in the brain [R, R].
8) May Protect Against Radiation
Unintended exposure to radiation in the environment increases oxidative stress in the body, which can damage many organs. Radiotherapy, on the other hand, is used to kill certain types of cancers in chemotherapy protocols but can harm many healthy tissues as well.
Nutrient- and antioxidant-rich Shilajit may help prevent or reduce the damage. It greatly increased the health of ovarian cells after exposure to radiation. Shilajit could turn off cell death pathways, increasing the survival of healthy cells [R].
9) May Help with Alzheimer’s
The brain scans of people with Alzheimer’s disease show clumps of altered proteins (so-called tau fibrils). As these proteins build up and tangle, the disease worsens. In a cell-based study, fulvic acid found in Shilajit significantly decreased the aggregation of these protein tangles. It could reduce the size of proteins and detangle them, showing great potential for combating this disease [R, R].
10) Is A Nootropic
According to Ayurveda, Shilajit is a “medha rasayana” or enhancer of memory and learning. In one study, purified Shilajit greatly increased learning and memory consolidation in old rats. Unpurified Shilajit, though, produced the opposite response, slowing down the brain and worsening cognition [R+].
While this study highlights the nootropic potential of high-quality Shilajit, it also warns about the dangers of low-quality, unpurified Shilajit formulations.
11) Helps the Body Absorb Iron & Handle High Altitude
Shilajit is native to the mountains and people have traditionally used to it overcome mountain sickness at extremely high altitudes. Shilajit boosts the transportation of nutrients into deep tissues and increases energy levels. It may improve the ability to handle high-altitude related problems [R+].
Fulvic acid from Shilajit helps bone marrow cells absorb more iron, which eventually increases the iron content in red blood cells. Adequate iron levels in red blood cells help capture oxygen more efficiently and cope better in low oxygen conditions of high altitude [R+].
Although its folk use at high altitudes is well-established, all the studies to support its use (in animals and cells) for preventing mountain sickness are limited.
12) May Improve Blood Flow and Detox
Fulvic acid from Shilajit may improve blood flow and the penetration of nutrients into deep tissues that often need them the most. Fulvic acid may also help remove toxins from deep tissues, enhancing detox. Altogether, the resulting improved blood flow may prevent damage and promote healing in the body (animal and cellular studies) [R].
13) May Help with Diabetes
14) May Reduce Seizures
In one study on rats, Shilajit sped up recovery from seizures. Higher doses had a stronger effect and could even delay attacks and complications [R].
15) Amplifies the Benefits of Other Herbs
One of the most interesting benefits of Shilajit is its ability to enhance the benefits of other herbs and nutrients. Acting as a general accomplice in healing, Shilajit is classified as a “yogavaha” in Ayurveda, which translates to “an agent which enhances the property of other drugs”.
According to reviews, it may increase the efficacy of Ayurvedic herbs such as:
- Sal/shala (Shoria robusta)
- Charoli nut (Bachanania lactifolia)
- Sweet acacia (Acacia fernesiana),
Asana (Terminalia tomentosa)
- Catechu (Catechu nigrum)
- Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula)
- Bala (Sida cordifolia)
Research is currently underway to discover other herbs Shilajit may offer synergistic benefits to [R+].
16) May Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Shilajit may increase dopamine levels in limbic, emotional regions of the brain, according to animal studies. It may reduce anxiety and the detrimental effects of stress, supported by its antioxidant and nutrient content [R].
In mice, Shilajit greatly increased levels of GABA, the main “calming” neurotransmitter in the brain. Increasing GAMA reduces over-activity in the brain, which can help with anxiety, panic, and stress, but also explains its anti-seizure benefits [R].
17) May Boost Antioxidant Defense
Shilajit is a potent antioxidant. It could block death pathways in cells (such as p53, Bax, and caspase 3), increase levels of the master antioxidant glutathione, and protect against damaging free radicals. Overall, it stabilizes cells and increases their antioxidant capacity [R, R].
There are many challenges to dosing Shilajit properly. For one, many forms of supplements exist and the exact concentration of active compounds and nutrients in these products is usually known. What’s even worse, many products that claim to be good-quality don’t even contain Shilajit.
Even if you found a good Shilajit supplement, clinical studies are lacking. One clinical study in infertile men used 250 mg 2X/day for 3 months. This is in line with the dosage used in Ayurvedic practice, according to reviews. The dosage mentioned in most reviews varies between 300 – 500 mg/day. According to Ayurveda, Shilajit powder is mixed with milk and taken two times per day [R, R].
When it comes to the isolated active compounds, up to 1 g/kg/day of potassium humate and up to 1.8 g/day of fulvic acid is safe in adults. This is the highest safe dose and not recommended for general wellness [R].
Joe’s Review of Shilajit
I tried many different kinds of shilajit and the effects were different for each one. With all of them, I found you had to take a hefty dosage to notice something. For example, with the Swanson one, I needed to take about 10 capsules to really feel an effect. And while the effect was decent, it wasn’t optimal for me.
The Purblack Shilajit had the most powerful effect on me without a doubt. It gave me a significant burst of energy and made me feel really good. The downside is the price. However, this is the only legitimate Shilajit product that lives up to its potential.
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Shilajit is one of the most intriguing supplements available. It is a herbomineral remedy, composed of both plants and earth minerals that have been transformed by pressure and temperature in between rocks in mountainous regions. Although Shilajit of the Himalayas is most well-known, this biomass is also found in other mountainous regions across Asia.
Many of its traditional benefits – such as its ability to protect deep tissues, boost nutrients and detox pathways, enhance cognition, and restore fertility – have been confirmed in studies. Shilajit may act as a general rejuvenator and accomplice in healing, enhancing the benefits of numerous other herbs and nutrients. However, the evidence to support its benefits is limited, as only a handful of clinical studies have been carried out.
Shilajit can also be a dangerous supplement, especially if you don’t purchase a high-quality product. Unpurified Shilajit contains high levels of heavy metals. Suspicious products may also contain various additives and toxins. If you decide to start supplementing, be sure to carefully check the label and quality of Shilajit supplements.