The Himalayan Mountain Range is revered across the Indian subcontinent as the storehouse of amazing natural substances of immense therapeutic values. One such natural substance found in the Himalayas recognized for its health benefits from time immemorial is Shilajit. The inhabitants of this region believe that just as the River Ganga is the carrier of the sacred water of the Himalayas, Shilajit contains the essence of the Himalayan earth element. It bestows upon the user the strength and power of the mountain. It is regarded by some as the “Soma of the Earth”, the best of all rasayanas or adaptogenic substances. It is known to energize, revitalize and rejuvenate. It is an excellent supplement that combines the powers of different minerals. (1)
What Is The Meaning Of Shilajit?
The word Shilajit is a phonetic adaptation of ‘silajit’, a word derived from the Sanskrit word ‘silajatu’. Here, the first element ‘sila’ means possessing the properties of a mountain or rock and the second element ‘jatu’ means a tarry or gummy substance. The Sanskrit term for Shilajit is Silajatu, which means rock-tar. (2) The word Shilajit is commonly known as the ‘conqueror of mountains’. (3)
What Is Shilajit?
The origin of Shilajit is unclear. It exudes naturally from the rocks of the Himalayan Mountain range. It is believed to be the fossilized remains of plants, though some claim that the rock exudates are a mixture of plant and animal remains. Some claim that it is a mineral resin, an inorganic material or bitumen of varying consistencies available in the form of fluid or a hard brittle substance. (4)
How Is Shilajit Produced?
Researchers who support the theory that Shilajit is derived from vegetable sources claim that it is the latex of the plant Euphorbia royleana Boiss. Researchers have found that the organic compounds found in Shilajit are identical to those present in the latex of the Euphorbia royleana trees that grow in the vicinity of the rocks that produce Shilajit. However, another group of researchers claim that humification of Styrax officinalis is primarily responsible for the formation of Shilajit. Another plant that has been identified as a possible source of formation of Shilajit is Trifolium repens, which grows abundantly in the regions where the rocks that produce Shilajit are found. Studies also suggest bryophytes including different species of moss such as Barbula, Minium, Fissidenc and Thuidium and Liverworts such as Asterella, Marchantia, Dumortiera, Stephenrencella, Plagiochasma and Anthoceros as possible sources of Shilajit. (5) The geothermal pressure squeezes the plant matter that had decomposed several centuries ago out of the rocks. (6)
Where Is Shilajit Found?
Shilajit is primarily found in the Himalayas, at an altitude of 1000 to 1500 meters above sea level. (7) Sources of Shilajit are also found in Afghanistan, Russia, China, Australia and Chile. The exudates are believed to be 500 to 1500 years old, though some samples found in Central Asia are about 15,000 years old. (8)
What Are The Health Benefits And Uses Of Shilajit
The ancient Ayurvedic texts such as Charaka Samhita, Shusruta Samhita and Asthangsangreha have recognized the therapeutic properties of Shilajit. These texts have identified different varieties of Shilajit. According to Charaka, there are four types of Shilajit, Sushruta has identified six types and the books of Indian Alchemy have mentioned two types of Shilajit, one that smells like cow-urine and another that has the odor of camphor. (9) Shilajit comprises of humic and non-humic constituents. 80 to 85% of Shilajit is made up of humic substances produced from higher plants, lower plants such as mosses, liverworts and algae and microorganisms. 8 to 10% mass of Shilajit is non-humic substances including triterpene acids of the tirucullane type, acuparins or low molecular weight chemical compounds and oxygenated dibenzo-alpha-pyrones. (10) A number of minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, silver occur naturally in the tissues of bryophytes that are believed to be the source of Shilajit. The same elements are also found in Shilajit. (11) About 85 minerals in ionic form are believed to be present in Shilajit. Humic acid and fulvic acid are the major ingredients in Shilajit. (12) However, the total mineral content of Shilajit is not significant. Researchers speculate that fulvic acid constituents of Shilajit chelate the minerals, easing their absorption into the body cells. In addition to fulvic acid and its different polymeric constituents, dibenzo-alpha-pyrones (DBP) and DBP chromoproteins are believed to be primarily responsible for the pharmacological and physiological activities of Shilajit. (13)
- What Are The Health Benefits And Uses Of Shilajit
1. Boosts Energy
Shilajit is recognized as the destroyer of weakness in the Indian subcontinent. It is known to provide energy and nutrients to the cells. Fulvic acid induces energy metabolism and helps in protecting the membrane of the body cells from oxidation, which is associated with inflammatory diseases, aging and cancer. (14) Shilajit also helps in reducing the symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome and helped in reversing the immobility period and climbing behavior in the rodents. It also helped in reversing the plasma corticosterone level that was decreased by chronic fatigue syndrome. Loss of adrenal gland weight and mitochondrial oxidative stress induced by chronic fatigue syndrome were also reversed by Shilajit intake and it inhibited mitochondrial dysfunction. (15) The energy boosting effect of Shilajit has been reported in an unpublished human study. Healthy participants in the study who took 200 mg of processed Shilajit daily for 15 days experienced significant improvement in the energy level. (16)
2. Combats Altitude Problems
As a health rejuvenator, Shilajit can help in attenuating high-altitude related problems such as acute mountain sickness, hypoxia, lethargy, tiredness, depression, body pain, poor appetite, insomnia, dementia, pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema. Low atmospheric pressure, high wind velocity, high intensity of solar radiation and high variation in day and night temperatures are responsible for triggering these health problems when people who normally reside in lower altitudes go up to higher altitudes. Fulvic acid, a key carrier molecule present in Shilajit, readily transports nutrients to the deeper tissues of the body, thereby relieving chronic fatigue, tiredness and lethargy. Shilajit is known to strengthen the immune system and helps in enhancing the body’s ability to deal with high altitude stress. (17)
3. Good For Heart
Shilajit appears to possess cardioprotective property. In an animal study, researchers found that Shilajit helped in attenuating the adverse effect of myocardial injury. Though, Shilajit exhibited a mild positive effect on the antioxidant capacity, as no significant difference in the antioxidant system of normal and diseased animals had been noticed, researchers believe that other mechanisms are involved in the cardioprotective effect of Shilajit. (18)
4. Helps Lower Cholesterol And Triglycerides
Shilajit is known for its lipid lowering effect. A human study revealed that regular intake of 2 gm of Shilajit for 45 days helped in reducing the serum triglycerides and serum cholesterol levels and simultaneously improved the HDL or good cholesterol level. The pulse rate, blood pressure and the body weight of the volunteers in the study were not affected. (19)
5. Good For Brain
Animal studies with Shilajit suggest that it can be good for the health of the brain. According to a laboratory study, Shilajit helped in improving information acquisition and retention in older rodents. Increase in cortical and basal forebrain cholinergic signal transduction cascade following administration of Shilajit is at least partially responsible for the beneficial effect of Shilajit on cognition and memory. (20) Shilajit is also believed to reduce the risk of age-related cognitive disorders. Fulvic acid in Shilajit is known to obstruct tau self-aggregation, which can help people with Alzheimer’s disease. (21) Furthermore, animal studies have demonstrated probable effectiveness of Shilajit in reducing brain edema, disruption of the blood-brain barrier and intracranial pressure following traumatic brain injury. (22) Moreover, Shilajit is believed to possess antiepileptic and antipsychotic properties. (23)
6. Helps In Blood Sugar Management
Shilajit can also help in lowering the elevated blood sugar level. Laboratory studies have validated the beneficial effect of Shilajit on diabetic animals. By elevating the concentration of superoxide dismutase (SOD) in pancreatic islets that secrete insulin, Shilajit helps in decreasing production and accumulation of free radicals, thereby improving blood sugar management. Furthermore, Shilajit appears to increase the hypoglycemic function of insulin. In addition to the antioxidant effect of Shilajit, its anti-diabetes property is also attributed to its role as the inhibitor of alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase enzymes. (24) These enzymes are essential for digestion of carbohydrate. Suppressing these enzymes causes significant reduction on the blood glucose level after meal. (25)
7. Helps Fight Viral Infection
Shilajit is known for its antiviral activity. It is capable of inhibiting the activity of various viruses including herpes simplex type 1 and type 2, respiratory syncytial virus and human cytomegalovirus. Humic acid in Shilajit plays an important role in inhibiting the ability of the viruses to attach to the host cells. Furthermore, it can partially inactivate the viruses. (26)
8. Helps Reduce Inflammation
Because of its anti-inflammatory effect, Shilajit can help in alleviating inflammatory conditions. Animal studies have demonstrated significant analgesic activity of Shilajit, thereby suggesting its possible effectiveness in fighting inflammation. In an animal study, researchers found that Shilajit caused significant reduction in pain in dogs suffering from moderate arthritis. The animals were given 500 mg of Shilajit twice daily for five months. Reduction in pain was significant after 60 days and maximum improvement was recorded by the 150th day. (27)
9. Helps Alleviate Peptic Ulcer
Shilajit is used in folk medicines as a remedy for peptic ulcer. The antiulcerogenic effect of Shilajit has been verified in an animal study reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Researchers found that Shilajit reduced the gastric ulcer index and elevated the carbohydrate/protein ratio, thereby suggesting improvement in the mucus barrier that helps provide relief from peptic ulcer. (28)
10. Improves Fertility
Shilajit is believed to be beneficial for the sexual health of men. Improvement in the male androgenic hormone testosterone level was reported following intake of 250 mg of purified Shilajit twice daily by healthy men between 45 to 55 years of age. Regular ingestion of Shilajit for 90 days helped elevate the total testosterone, free testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone levels. Moreover, it didn’t affect the gonadotropic hormones that were maintained in the normal levels. (29) Traditionally Shilajit is used as an aphrodisiac. An animal study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health suggests that this property of Shilajit is owing to its ability to improve relaxation of corpus cavernosum. (30) Moreover, Shilajit is a beneficial substance for infertile men or those with low sperm count. A clinical study reported in the journal Andrologia revealed that Shilajit helps in increasing total sperm count and sperm motility. For 90 days, the participants in the study took 100 mg of processed Shilajit capsule twice daily after major meals. (31) Furthermore, Shilajit can also improve fertility in women. According to an animal study, Shilajit helps induce ovulation. (32)
11. Good For Weight Loss
Obesity is one of the leading causes of diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension. A study has reported that Shilajit or Shilajatu processed with Clerodendrum phlomidis Linn, significantly reduced body weight and body mass index. The novel Shilajit product was made by triturating purified Shilajit seven times with the fresh juice of Clerodendrum phlomidis. Each capsule contained 500 mg of processed Shilajit. The participants in the study were given two capsules before meal twice a day for 10 weeks. (33)
How To Check/Test Shilajit
According to the ancient Indian physicians Charaka and Sushruta, the metal that is predominant in the vicinity of the Shilajit producing rock determine the potency and taste of Shilajit. The different grades of Shilajit are determined by its major metal content. The metals primarily associated with Shilajit are gold, silver, copper, lead, tin and iron. Shilajit associated with iron has the maximum potency and is considered to be of the best grade, while the lowest grade Shilajit is associated with tin. High-grade pure Shilajit is black, glossy and heavy and has the odor of cow urine. It should not contain any sand particle. (34) According to the Charaka Samhita, pure Shilajit resembles the resin of the Commiphora mukul or Guggul. It tastes bitter and pungent.
Shilajit available nowadays is amorphous and colorless. It is available as free-flowing liquid as well as hard, brittle solid substance. In nature, Shilajit is mixed with impurities. It needs to be purified before use. Traditionally, natural Shilajit is purified by boiling it with cow milk, Triphala decoction and Eclipta alba or Bhringraja juice, and then dried. Another traditional purification method involves washing the natural Shilajit with potassium carbonate, cow urine and Kanjee. The consistency of purified Shilajit varies. Dried Shilajit is black in color and has the odor of cow urine. Crystalline Shilajit absorbs moisture when exposed to air and becomes moist. Shilajit available in the semi-solid form is thicker than honey, but is as soft as confection. In semi-liquid form, Shilajit is yellowish-brown in color. (35)
When Should Shilajit Be Taken
Shilajit can be taken after major meals. In a clinical trial, volunteers were given 100 mg of processed Shilajit capsule twice a day after major meals. This dosage was found to be effective in increasing sperm count. (36) In another study, 500 mg of processed Shilajit was given to volunteers twice a day before meal. It was found to help in weight loss. (37) The recommended dose for diabetics is one gram with milk, twice daily. (38) As a general tonic, one Shilajit capsule can be taken with some milk or water before bed. (39)
How Long Should I Take Shilajit?
The maximum duration of clinical trials with Shilajit had been 90 days. No adverse effect on health was reported during the study period, which indicates that Shilajit is safe for regular ingestion for 90 days. In a human study involving 28 men, regular intake of 100 mg Shilajit twice daily for 90 days did not affect the urea, uric acid, albumin, total protein, bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase levels. According to an unpublished study, Shilajit did not affect kidney and liver functions when taken by healthy humans at a dose of 250 mg twice daily for 90 days. (40)
What Are The Side Effects Of Shilajit
Shilajit is usually considered safe. However, unprocessed Shilajit entails a risk of contamination with toxic substances. The high concentration of uric acid makes Shilajit unsuitable for people with gout and small uric acid kidney stones. (41)