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. Allegedly, it acts as a rejuvenator, antioxidant, adaptogen, and aphrodisiac. Read on to understand what the science says and how to tell properly purified supplements apart from dangerous low-quality products.
What is Shilajit?
Historical Roots of 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 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 is best-known in the Himalayas .
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 so-called “rejuvenating effects.” It has been used as a general tonic, adaptogen and anti-stress remedy among folk healers .
“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 many illnesses. However, proper scientific evidence is lacking to support the use of shilajit for any condition.
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 manufacturers and sold as capsules or powder .
Additionally, Shilajit supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
- Rich in minerals and active compounds
- Purported to be a strong rejuvenator
- May support energy use and detox
- May increase testosterone
- May reduce stress and support cognition
- High-quality purified Shilajit is hard to find
- Most products on the market contain toxins
- Clinical studies are lacking
- Long-term safety is unknown
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 organic compounds. The warmer temperatures in the summer melt Shilajit, causing it to ooze from cracks in the rocks .
Shilajit contains :
- 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
Scientists hypothesize that fulvic acid acts as a carrier molecule in the body, helping to transport nutrients into the deep tissues and remove deep-seated toxins. According to this theory, the bioactive compounds in Shilajit amplify the benefits and bioavailability of other herbs. However, insufficient evidence backs up this concept .
Traditional practitioners sat that Shilajit also supports energy production and tissue recovery, improves blood flow, and reduces the negative impact of psychological and physical stress. Clinical studies are lacking to support these claims [1, 2+].
Although recent research points to fulvic acid and plant metabolites as the main carriers of the benefits, researchers believe that the complex mixture in Shilajit as a whole probably contains many compounds that act in synergy [1, 2+].
Types and Origins of Shilajit
The exact composition of Shilajit is influenced by factors such as [2+]:
- 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 [2+].
Four different varieties have been described [2+]:
- 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 [2+].
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 metals (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, and if you decide to supplement after consulting your healthcare provider, make sure you buy Shilajit from a trusted source and ask for a Certificate of Analysis.
Alleged Health Benefits of Shilajit
There is insufficient evidence to support the use of Shilajit for any of the below listed uses. Shilajit should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.
Note: The remaining studies were all conducted on animals or cells and should guide further investigational efforts. However, they should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit. Shilajit should not be used for any condition lacking proper safety and efficacy data in humans.
1) Energy Levels
Chronic fatigue syndrome can completely impair a person’s 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 [7, 8].
According to some theories, the HPA axis can a profound impact on energy, cognition, and the circadian rhythm. Thus, certain practitioners think that rebalancing it should be the main goal in people with chronic fatigue. This viewpoint is still controversial, though .
Scientists believe that Shilajit may target another potentially important contributor to chronic fatigue: malfunctioning mitochondria. These tiny powerhouses produce all energy in cells. If the mitochondria are not working well, people 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 .
However, the effects of shilajit on fatigue in humans remain uninvestigated.
2) Effects on Testosterone & 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 testosterone and fertility in men were explored. The available data are still sparse and inconclusive.
Shilajit may be absorbed into the testes, where it might decrease oxidative damage, according to cell-based and animal studies. It may also increase sperm production, though this remains to be determined in humans [10, 4].
Some researchers hope that the mix of active compounds in Shilajit may help people overcome addictions, but much more research is needed. No clinical studies exist to support the use of Shilajit in people with addiction and its interactions with psychotropic drugs are unknown.
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 .
One group of researchers is wondering whether Shilajit may play a role in the opioid epidemic. 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, but its effects on pain and drug tolerance in humans are unknown .
4) May Support Gut Health
Fulvic acid found in this biomass reduced stomach acid and pepsin secretion in the stomachs of rats, which lowers the risk of ulcers. Its effects on gut and stomach disorders in humans are not known [13, 13].
Benzoic Acid from Shilajit, on the other hand, may have antibacterial properties. Scientists believe it may fight bacteria in the stomach and gut, which could potentially help with SIBO and gut infections in general .
5) May Support Heart Health
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 .
However, this purported benefit remains unproven due to a lack of clinical studies.
6) Nootropic Potential
According to Ayurveda, Shilajit is a “medha rasayana” or “enhancer of memory and learning.” In one study, purified Shilajit increased learning and memory consolidation in old rats. Unpurified Shilajit, though, produced the opposite response, slowing down the brain and worsening cognition [2+].
While this study highlights the nootropic potential of high-quality Shilajit, it also warns about the dangers of low-quality, unpurified Shilajit formulations.
More high-quality human studies with standardized and purified Shilajit formulations are needed before we can draw any conclusions.
7) Effects on Iron & High Altitude
Shilajit is native to the mountains and people have traditionally used to it overcome mountain sickness at extremely high altitudes. Shilajit allegedly boosts the transportation of nutrients into deep tissues and increases energy levels. Some people say it may improve their ability to handle high-altitude related problems, though clinical trials are lacking to support this claim [1+].
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 [1+].
Although its folk use at high altitudes is well-established, studies to support its use for preventing mountain sickness are insufficient and limited to cells and animals.
8) May Amplify the Effects of Other Herbs
One of the most interesting purported benefits of Shilajit is its alleged ability to enhance the benefits of other herbs and nutrients.
Traditional practitioners say Shilajit acts as a “general accomplice” and it 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 [2+]:
- Sal/shala (Shoria robusta)
- Charoli nut (Bachanania lactifolia)
- Sweet acacia (Acacia fernesiana),
Asana (Terminalia tomentosa)
- Catechu (Catechu nigrum)
- Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula)
- Bala (Sida cordifolia)
However, these reviews included low-quality studies with questionable findings. Clinical data are completely lacking, and most claims and conclusions stem from traditional and unproven uses.
Research is currently underway to discover whether Shilajit has synergies with other herbs [2+].
9) Stress and Anxiety
Shilajit may increase dopamine levels in limbic, emotional regions of the brain, according to animal studies. Researchers think it may reduce anxiety and the detrimental effects of stress based on its antioxidant and nutrient content. However, proper studies are still lacking to support their theory .
In mice, Shilajit increased levels of GABA, the main “calming” neurotransmitter in the brain. Increasing GAMA reduces over-activity in the brain, which may help with anxiety, panic, and stress, but also potentially with seizures. Much more research is needed .
10) Antioxidant Defense
Shilajit has antioxidant properties. It could block death pathways in cells (such as p53, Bax, and caspase 3), protect against damaging free radicals, and increase levels of the master antioxidant glutathione. Overall, researchers consider that it stabilizes cells and increases their antioxidant capacity [18, 19].
The research listed below is in the earliest stages. We can’t draw any health-related conclusions from it.
Scientists are exploring whether humic and fulvic acid, both found in Shilajit, 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 .
However, the anti-inflammatory potential of shilajit remains to be determined in animals and humans.
Head injuries can damage blood vessels in the brain, increase oxidative stress, and cause long-term health problems. In animal studies, Shilajit helped reduce damage to the brain and speed up recovery by increasing antioxidant levels. Additionally, scientists are exploring whether it can improve brain blood flow and reduce high pressure in the brain [R, R].
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 [22, 22].
Human data are lacking. The effects of Shilajit on Alzheimer’s disease should be investigated in clinical trials.
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 it can harm many healthy tissues as well.
Researchers are investigating whether Shilajit has the potential to help prevent or reduce the damage. It increased the health of ovarian cells after exposure to radiation. Shilajit could turn off cell death pathways, increasing the survival of healthy cells. On the other hand, cell studies don’t tell us anything about its potential effects. Animal and human studies are needed .
Blood Flow & Detox
Scientists hypothesize that fulvic acid from Shilajit may improve blood flow and the penetration of nutrients into deep tissues that often need them the most. According to them, 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 .
However, clinical data are lacking. Their observations are based on animal and cellular studies
In one study on rats, Shilajit sped up recovery from seizures. Higher doses had a stronger effect and could delay attacks and complications .
Supplementing With Shilajit
There are many challenges to dosing Shilajit. 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 scientific 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 [4, 14].
When it comes to the isolated active compounds, research suggests that 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 .
Shilajit 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 best-known, this biomass is also found in other mountainous regions across Asia.
Many of its traditional alleged benefits – such as its ability to protect deep tissues, boost nutrients and detox pathways, enhance cognition, and restore fertility – have not been confirmed in studies.
Practitioners claim that 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 these claims is extremely 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, consult your doctor first and be sure to carefully check the label and quality of Shilajit supplements.