When you consider a new supplement, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not a jar of black, tar-like goo. But maybe it should be, because shilajit is an excellent ancient herb with a host of health benefits.
It’s a common substance used in the ancient practice of Ayurvedic medicine, a 5,000-year-old method of disease prevention and treatment originating in India and still practiced in many Asian countries. Ayurvedic medicine is built on the concept that by keeping equilibrium in the body’s three “doshas,” one can live a long and healthy life without the use of prescription medications.
One reason shilajit is such an effective medicinal herb is due to its high fulvic acid content. Fulvic acid has many proven benefits, from improving gut health to keeping skin healthy. This ancient herb contains a huge percentage of fulvic acid and is one of the most common supplements used to increase your intake of this potent acid.
Known for thousands of years as a rejuvenator of the whole body, shilajit has garnered a fairly significant body of research for its impact on various body systems. So, before writing it off for its odd appearance, you should take a read into what it may be able to do for you.
1. Provides Energy and Revitalization
For millennia, practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have prescribed shilajit to boost energy and revitalize the body. Because of the level of importance these natural doctors put on this supplement, the body of confirmed scientific research on it is growing steadily.
One way shilajit helps provide the body with energy is the way it increases the function of mitochondria within the body. Mitochondria are organelles that serve as the “power source” of cells in the body because they convert oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the substance that actually powers body cells. Shilajit encourages the function of mitochondria, helping them oxygenate more efficiently. (1) Not only does it help mitochondrial function on its own, but it’s been found to create a powerful effect on mitochondrial oxygenation when combined with supplemented CoQ10, an antioxidant naturally found in all human cells. (2)
As this substance helps increase the production of ATP, it increases overall energy and stamina. In fact, it’s commonly used to enhance athletic performance. (3) Chronic fatigue syndrome, a disorder classified by at least six months of inescapable fatigue, has been successfully treated with shilajit supplementation, also evidenced by the way it enhances mitochondrial function. (4)
In addition to mitochondrial efficacy, this herb revitalizes the body with its strong antioxidant properties. By fighting disease-causing free radicals, it repairs internal damage to the body caused by chemicals and other dangerous agents you’re exposed to, and it reduces the levels of fat in the blood. (5)
2. Promotes Brain Health
Shilajit seems to have a targeted mechanism for protecting brain cells in particular. Initial studies show it has “distinct and marked neuroprotective activity.” (6) In a 2013 study conducted by the Physiology Research Center at the Kerman University of Medical Sciences in Iran on the effects of shilajit on risk factors following a traumatic brain injury, researchers discovered that it has positive effects on the three most indicative factors of death following traumatic brain injury: brain edema, blood-brain barrier permeability and intracranial pressure. (7)
This incredible nutrient may also present a novel treatment option for patients suffering from mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease. The presence of fulvic acid and a treatment protocol including administration with B complex vitamins have shown promising results in pilot studies. (8)
3. Regulates Hormones and Immune System
Another important function of shilajit is the way it regulates various body systems, such as your immune system and the balance of hormones. Many researchers agree that it impacts so much of the body because of the way it helps these systems remain in equilibrium. (10)
In particular, shilajit affects reproductive hormone functions. In healthy males, supplementation increases blood testosterone and encourages the production of sperm. (11) When tested in pilot studies involving rats, it was also associated with ovulation in adult female rats, indicating that shilajit powder or resin may be an agent to consider for those struggling with infertility. (12)
4. Alleviates Pain Response
Ayurvedic medicine has long praised shilajit for its ability to reduce pain levels, but research has been limited until the last few years. Because of its interaction with GABA levels in the brain, this herb has a significant effect on orofacial pain (pain of the face, mouth or jaws), acting as a “sedating agent.” (13) A 2015 study on mice found it to relieve and lessen chronic pain over the course of time, dependent on the size of the dose. (14)
One feature that I’ll discuss more in depth in a moment is its interaction with medications. Regarding pain, shilajit interacts positively with morphine, minimizing the buildup of tolerance to morphine and, therefore, reducing the amount of this medication that one in serious pain would need to introduce into his or her system for effective pain relief. (15)
5. May Help Manage Diabetes
Those with diabetes may be interested to know that shilajit can help reduce blood glucose and lipid profiles in diabetes patients, especially when taken in conjunction with diabetes medications. (16, 17)
Shilajit is a main ingredient in a supplement known as D-400, Diabecon or GlucoCare. This supplement is designed to combine the most powerful Ayurvedic natural treatments into one pill. D-400 reduces blood glucose levels and shows potential to repair damage to the pancreas caused by diabetes. (18)
6. Helps Prevent and Protect from Cancer
Fascinatingly, shilajit has been found to be toxic to various of types of cancers, including lung, breast, colon, ovarian and liver cancer. Some researchers attribute its toxicity to these cancer to the presence and combination of heavy metals in the substance, making it a potential natural cancer treatment. (19)
Also related to cancer is the ability shilajit has to protect certain body systems from dangerous radiation damage. A June 2016 study published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that it greatly protected ovaries from radiation-related damage. (20)
7. Fights Inflammation and Viruses
As part of a diet designed to fight disease-causing inflammation, you may want to consider using shilajit. Research finds that it’s effective in healing and preventing gastric ulcers and reducing the inflammation related to them. (21, 22)
Not only does it help alleviate inflammation, but it has “broad, yet specific” antiviral properties. One Italian lab study found significant antiviral activity against a number of herpes-related viruses and HRSV, a virus that causes respiratory tract infections, especially in children. (23)
8. Supports Skeletal Health
Shilajit may even improve the health of your skeletal system. There is initial evidence that it helps bones regenerate, protecting from and slowing the process of osteoporosis. (24) In a study of obese patients published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, supplementation greatly improved the function and regeneration of skeletal muscles. (25)
9. Good for the Heart and Blood
By exercising its antioxidant “muscles,” shilajit has been shown to protect the heart against damage resulting from drug-induced injury. A study published in Cardiovascular Toxicology performed on rats found that subjects given shilajit had less lasting damage visible on the heart. (26)
The herb is also effective in treating anemia because of the high presence of iron found in one dose.
Preliminary research also indicates that shilajit can help, in certain doses, regulate heart rate. In smaller doses, it may lower a speeding heart rate. However, in large doses, it may have the opposite effect. If you have issues with irregular heartbeat or other heart-related problems, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning supplementation. (27)
10. Aids in Breaking Addictions
Because of its unique interaction with other drug substances, shilajit has a profound effect on the process of breaking addiction. When given to patients coming down from opioids, it reduces the actual addiction and minimizes withdrawal symptoms, better in many cases than common medications given to break dependence. (28)
Similarly, this medicinal “herb” reduces addiction to alcohol and greatly diminishes the withdrawal experienced by alcoholics who stop drinking. (29) It’s not surprising, then, that Eastern medicine has advised its use to break addiction for centuries.
Shilajit Nutrition Facts
Known by many names, shilajit is also called mineral pitch, mineral wax, black asphaltum, Asphaltum punjabianum (in Latin), shargai, dorobi, barahshin, baragshun, mumlai, brag zhun, chao-tong, wu ling zhi, baad-a-ghee, and arkhar-tash and mumiyo (variably transliterated as mumijo, mumio, momia, and moomiyo).
It’s a tar-like substance (known as a biomass) found in the Himalayan and Tibet Mountains. As lush forests were compacted as mountains arose, shilajit was formed. When the temperatures rise around these Indian mountains, this tar-like medical miracle substance oozes from crevices within the mountains. Ranging from yellowish-brown to pure black in color, the black variety is considered the most nutritional.
It’s not clear if shilajit is a purely biological or geological substance, as it does have a high presence of nutrients found in both categories. Some of the most often recognized nutrients within it are fulvic acid, humic acids and dibenzo alpha pyrones.
Although it’s likely that various types and brands contain different concentrations of some vitamins and minerals, this breakdown of the nutritional content of one brand helps give a starting point for the amounts of common minerals you might find. It’s commonly stated that shilajit, in pure form, contains about 85 different vitamins and minerals.
One serving of shilajit powder (about ½ teaspoon) contains about: (30)
- 3 calories
- 5.4 milligrams iron (30 percent DV)
- 40 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
- 2.8 micrograms selenium (4 percent DV)
- 0.45 milligrams zinc (3 percent DV)
How Do I Take Shilajit?
Shilajit is not readily available at a grocery store — however, it’s possible to purchase imported shilajit at various online retailers. The three forms in which it comes are shilajit powder, shilajit resin and supplements. Depending on whom you ask, each option has its benefits, but most experts generally agree that pure shilajit resin is the most “pure” form to buy.
“How do you take resin as a supplement?” you might ask. In most cases, people find that spooning out a small portion (often between the size of a grain of rice and a pea) and mixing it into water is the simplest method to take it each day.
Beware, though: It does not taste great. If you choose to use shilajit, you probably want to get used to quickly downing a glass of water with dissolved shilajit or adding that water to a smoothie or other liquid to counteract the rubbery taste.
One important part of purchasing it is to find reputable distributors. There are many companies selling various shilajit products, but many of them have been found to be very impure forms of the substance or cut with other, non-nutritional things. Again, do your research before beginning to take it.
History and Interesting Facts About Shilajit
Over 3,000 years ago, shilajit was mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts. Known as “conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness,” it has been one of the staples of traditional medicine (and an aphrodisiac) in a variety of Asian countries for thousands of years. (31) Vaidya Charak, a famous ancient Indian in the first century A.D., is quoted as saying, “There is hardly any curable disease which cannot be controlled or cured with the aid of shilajit.”
“The rediscovery of the power of shilajit is said to have been made by Himalayan villagers observing large white monkeys migrate to the mountains in the warm summer months. The monkeys were seen to be chewing a semi-soft substance that flowed from between layers of rock. The villagers attributed the monkey’s great strength, longevity and wisdom to the strange substance. They began to consume it themselves and reported a broad spectrum of improvements in health. It seemed to give them more energy, relieve digestive problems, increase sex drive, improve memory and cognition, improve diabetes, reduce allergies, improve the quality and quantity of life and it seemed to cure all diseases.”
More recently, due to its impressive effects on diabetes, shilajit was included in an herbal supplement known as Diabecon (as I mentioned previously). Many news outlets covered a story claiming that this drug had dangerously high levels of mercury and lead — a story that later proved to be false and based on an unauthorized retailer of the product.
Another fascinating feature of shilajit is its ability to help reduce the side effects of high-altitude travels. People going from low to high altitude may find it works as an incredibly effective method of avoiding “altitude stress.” (32)
Shilajit/Fulvic Acid Side Effects and Caution
Reports on the various “warnings” involving shilajit are inconsistent. However, it’s important to recognize a few possible issues regarding this substance. First of all, the two well-known possible drawbacks include the presence of heavy metals and the ability of large doses to adversely affect blood pressure. If you’re at risk for heavy metal exposure or abnormally low blood pressure, you should be cautious when taking it.
As I mentioned previously, it’s also very important to get this substance from a trusted source. Unfiltered shilajit may contain certain dangerous fungi, and this is part of where the problems with heavy metals come in.
It’s worth stating that this herb still in the introductory stages of scientific research — a lot of studies and discoveries are still in their infancy.
Final Thoughts on Shilajit
- Shilajit comes from mountain crevices in the Himalayan and Tibet Mountains and resembles a tar-like substance, ranging in color from yellowish-brown to black (black being considered most nutritionally valuable).
- Shilajit has been used for over 3,000 years by those practicing Ayurvedic medicine.
- There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support the its use as a revitalizing agent.
- Preliminary research has found it to be effective in relieving fatigue, promoting the health of the brain, supporting the immune system, relieving pain, managing diabetes, protecting from certain cancers, preventing inflammation and viral infections, improving skeletal system health, protecting the heart, and assisting in breaking addiction to harmful substances.
- Used in conjunction with other popular Ayurvedic herbs, shilajit can be a powerful supplement for almost anyone to use to improve overall health.
- Reports regarding the efficacy and safety of shilajit are varied and inconsistent. For the best results, you should thoroughly research any company from which you buy shilajit and only purchase it from trusted sources. You should also consult your doctor if you experience any adverse reactions.
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