James Odell, OMD, ND, L.Ac.
Most shilajit is a pale brown to blackish-brown exudation, of variable consistency, found in layers of rocks in many mountain ranges of the world, especially the Himalayan ranges of the Indian subcontinent (Tibet, Afghanistan, Nepal). It is also found in Russia, Norway, the north of Chile, and numerous other mountainous countries, where it is collected from rock faces at altitudes between 1000 and 5000 meters. Shilajit is an ancient cross-cultural medicine that goes by many names. In Sanskrit, it is called शिलाजीत Silajit or Silaras, adrija, girija (all meaning derived from rock). In Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi, it is called Silajita, Shilajit; in Bengali, it is called Silajatu; in Arabic, it is called Hajarul-musa; in Persian it is called Momio, and myemu in Russian, and mumie in German.1, 2
There are four different varieties of shilajit which have been described in Charka Samhita, a Sanskrit text of Ayurveda medicine; these are: savrana, rajat, tamra and lauha shilajit. Savrana shilajit is reddish in color, tamra is blueish, rajat is pale white, while the lauha shilajit is an iron-containing shilajit and is brownish-black. Tamra and savrana shilajit are not commonly found. The variety lauha shilajit is commonly found in Himalayan ranges and is traditionally considered to be the most therapeutically effective3, 4, 5 and most well-known commercial variety.
Historical Uses in Traditional Medicine
Shilajit is an ancient traditional medicine that has been ascribed several pharmacological activities. It has been used for thousands of years, in one form or another, under the indigenous systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani as a rejuvenator and adaptogen for prevention and treatment of several diseases.6, 7, 8 It has been traditionally prescribed to treat genitourinary disorder, jaundice, gallstone, digestive disorders, enlarged spleen, epilepsy, nervous disorder, chronic bronchitis, anemia. Shilajit is given along with milk to treat diabetes. Shilajit has also been ascribed as a potent aphrodisiac property. According to Ayurveda, shilajit arrests the process of aging and produces rejuvenation which are two important aspects of an Ayurvedic Rasayana. Shilajit amplifies the benefits of other herbs by enhancing their bioavailability in the body.9 It also is reported to reduce the recovery period of injured muscles, bones, and nervous system, and increases their strength at high altitudes.10, 11
Extensive research has been carried out to determine the exact chemical nature of shilajit. Research shows that shilajit mainly consists of paleohumus and organic compounds derived from vegetation fossils that have decomposed and been compressed under layers of rocks for thousands of years. Although shilajit is sometimes referred to as a mineral tar or resin, it is not either of those. It is a highly viscous substance like tar or resin, but unlike these is readily soluble in water but insoluble in ethanol. These substances have undergone a high amount of metamorphosis due to the extreme temperature and pressure conditions prevalent there.
Shilajit is composed of 60% to 80% humic substances such as humic and fulvic acids, and hippuric acid, fatty acid, ichthyol, ellagic acid, resin, triterpenes, sterol, aromatic carboxylic acid, 3,4-benzocoumarins, amino acids, and phenolic lipids, along with numerous trace oligoelements, especially trace minerals. In fact, shilajit contains more than 84 types of minerals and provides most of the necessary essential minerals the body requires.12, 13, 14 The major physiological action of shilajit was found to be due to the presence of the bioactive dibenzoalpha-pyrones along with humic and fulvic acids which acted as carrier molecules for the active ingredients.
Earlier work on shilajit showed that its major organic constituents included benzoic acid, hippuric acid, fatty acids, resin, and waxy materials, gums, albuminoids, and vegetable matter with benzoic acid being the active ingredient. 15, 16, 17,18
Fulvic acid acts as a carrier molecule in the human system helps in the transportation of nutrients into the deep tissues and removes deep-seated toxins from the body.19, 20, 21, 22
Above diagram source: Carrasco-Gallardo, Carlos, Leonardo Guzmán, and Ricardo B. Maccioni. "Shilajit: a natural phytocomplex with potential procognitive activity." International Journal of Alzheimer’s disease 2012 (2012).
Shilajit, its main components, and potential uses based on properties of fulvic acid. This phytocomplex known as shilajit is mainly composed of humic substances. One of them, fulvic acid, is known by its properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and memory enhancer. Novel investigations indicate that fulvic acid is an antiaggregation factor of tau protein in vitro, which projects fulvic acid as a potential anti-Alzheimer’s disease molecule.
The composition of shilajit is influenced by factors such as the plant species involved, the geological nature of the rock, local temperature profiles, humidity, and altitude, etc. For example, it was found that shilajit obtained from India in the region of Kumoan contains a higher percentage of fulvic acids (21.4%) compared with shilajit obtained from Nepal (15.4%), Pakistan (15.5%), and Russia (19.0%). On the other hand, the bioactive low molecular compound is found in high quantities in shilajit obtained from Nepal. Similarly, the pH of 1% aqueous solutions varied in the shilajit obtained from different countries, namely, 6.2 for India (Kumoan), 7.5 for Nepal (Dolpa), 6.8 for Pakistan (Peshawar), and 8.2 for Russia (Tien-Shan). Similarly, humic constituents in shilajit samples obtained from these countries also varied.23
Preclinical Research on the Activity of Shilajit
Research studies indicate that shilajit exhibits antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, adaptogenic, immunomodulatory, antidiabetic and anti-dyslipidemic properties. Animal and human studies indicate that shilajit enhances spermatogenesis. Furthermore, animal and human data support its use as a ‘revitalizer’, enhancing physical performance and relieving fatigue with enhanced production of ATP. Due to the humic and fulvic acids it contains, it has also been shown to aid detoxification, specifically of toxic graphene oxide. Particularly, humic acids are known to partially neutralize graphene oxide in aquatic environments.24, 25, 26, 27
(See Article on Graphene Oxide in BRMI E-Journal number 28)
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 powers body cells. Shilajit encourages the function of mitochondria, helping them oxygenate more efficiently.28
Not only does it help mitochondrial function on its own, but it has been found to create a powerful effect on mitochondrial oxygenation when combined with supplemented CoQ10, an antioxidant.29
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 the body is exposed to, and it reduces the levels of fat in the blood.30
Central Nervous System Benefits (Brain Protection)
Shilajit seems to have a targeted mechanism for protecting brain cells in particular. Initial studies show it has “distinct and marked neuroprotective activity.”31
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.32
In addition, shilajit exhibits anti-epileptic properties and potentially antipsychotic effects, as it adjusts GABA levels (an important inhibitory neurotransmitter) to normal levels.33
Memory Enhancement and Anxiolytic Activity
The effect of shilajit was investigated anxiolytic activity in Charles Foster strain albino rats. The results of these studies indicated that shilajit had a significant anxiolytic (antianxiety) activity. The biochemical studies carried out for the level of monoamines indicated that acute treatment with shilajit had an insignificant effect on rat brain monoamines and monoamine metabolite levels. However, it was observed that subacute (5 days) dose treatment caused a decrease in 5- hydroxy indole acetic acid concentration and an increase in the level of dopamine, homovallanic acid and 3,4- dihydroxyphenyl acetic acid concentration with an insignificant effect on noradrenaline and 3-methoxy-4- hydrophenylethylene glycol levels. The observed neurochemical studies on shilajit indicate a decrease in rat brain 5-hydroxytryptamine turnover, associated with an increase in dopaminergic activity leading to an increase in memory and anxiolytic activity in albino rats.34
This incredible nutrient may also present a novel treatment option for patients suffering from mild cases of dementia.
Shilajit can help reduce blood glucose and lipid profiles in diabetes patients, especially when taken in conjunction with diabetes medications.35
Shilajit is perhaps the first agent to possess both antiulcerogenic and anti-inflammatory activities and this unique property can be safely utilized in clinical practice.36 Shilajit was also found to have potent anti-inflammatory activity in all three models of acute, subacute, and chronic inflammation. Shilajit, at a dose of 50 mg/kg was also found to significantly reduce carrageenan-induced hind paw edema in rats, having an effect comparable to phenylbutazone (100 mg/kg) and betamethasone (0.25 mg/kg).37
Shilajit as an immunomodulatory agent was studied in mice that were given either shilajit extract or a placebo. The white blood cell activity was studied and monitored before and at intervals after receiving the shilajit extract or a placebo. It was found that the white blood cell activity was increased by shilajit extract. The observed activity increased as the dose of shilajit extract and time of exposure was increased.38
Shilajit comes as a resin, in tablets and capsules. One way to find your optimal Shilajit dosage of resin is to begin taking a piece about the size of a grain of rice (~100 mg) once per day. In a few days, take the same amount 2-3 times per day. Then gradually increase the amount of Shilajit taken with each dose up to a large pea size (~300 mg) until you achieve the desired benefits. Do not be greatly concerned with getting the portions exactly right or the same each time you take it. Use the same shape (elliptical like rice or round like a pea) each time to ensure that you have a relatively consistent Shilajit daily dose. Thus, the recommended dose of Shilajit for maintenance of optimal health is 300-500 mg/day.
As with any food supplement, herbal, or mineral product an important part of purchasing a quality product is to find reputable distributors. Many companies are selling various shilajit products, but some of them have impure forms of the substance or are cut with other, non-nutritional things. So, best to do some research before purchasing.
Considerations and Safety
Shilajit is generally safe for everyone. It has been found to be safe for up to 3 g/kg body weight in mice.39 Consult your health care provider if you experience any adverse reactions.
Shilajit is a potent and very safe dietary supplement, potentially able to prevent and treat several diseases. It is rich in organic acids (humic and fulvic acids), minerals, and other unique medicinal components. It is a medicinal substance with a long history of human use (over 3000 years) and is described in ancient medicinal texts such as the Hindu Materia Medica, Charaka Samhita, and Susruta Samhita. Traditionally, shilajit is consumed by people from Nepal and the North of India, and children usually take it with milk in their breakfast. Many Sherpas of the Himalaya’s claim to have shilajit as part of their diet. Sherpas are renowned in the international climbing and mountaineering community for their hardiness, expertise, and experience at very high altitudes. They constitute a population of strong men with very high levels of health and longevity.
Shilajit is an important, known component of Ayurvedic medicine given its characteristics as a rasayana. In this context, health benefits such as an increase in longevity, rejuvenating, and arresting aging roles have been attributed to it.
Modern research has proven shilajit to be beneficial in nervous, diabetic, urinary, immune, cardiac, and digestive disorders, and is also used as a performance enhancer. Also, it has been claimed in India to be used as yogavaha, that is, as a synergistic enhancer of other drugs. Organic components of shilajit play a role in transporting different mineral substances to their cellular targets. It is expected that considering the reported benefits evidenced historically and from several trials that much more positive clinical research will be published.
Kong, Y. C., P. P. H. But, K. H. Ng, K. F. Cheng, R. C. Cambie, and S. B. Malla. "Chemical Studies on a Nepalese Panacea-Shilajit (I)." International Journal of Crude Drug Research 25, no. 3 (1987): 179-182.
Srivastava RS, Kumar Y, Singh SK, Ghosal S. 1988. Shilajit, its source and active principles. Proc 16 IUPAC (Chemistry of Natural Products). 524. Kyoto Japan.
Ghosal S, Lata S, Kumar Y, Gaur B, Misra N. 1995b. Interaction of Shilajit with biogenic free radicals. Indian J Chem 34B: 596–602.
Sharma PV. 1978. In Darvyaguna Vijnan, 4th edn. Chaukkhamba Sanskrit Sansthan Varanasi. 63.
Chopra RN, Chopra IC, Handa KL, Kapoor KD. 1958. In Indigenous Drugs of India. U.N. Dhar & Sons: Calcutta, 457–461.
Acharya SB, Frotan MH, Goel RK, Tripathi SK, Das PK. 1988. Pharmacological actions of Shilajit. Indian J Exp Biol 26: 775–777.
Chopra RN, Chopra IC, Handa KL, Kapoor KD. 1958. In Indigenous Drugs of India. U.N. Dhar & Sons: Calcutta, 457–461.
Khanna, Rajesh; Witt, Matthias; Khalid Anwer, Md.; Agarwal, Suraj P.; Koch, Boris P. (December 2008). "Spectroscopic characterization of fulvic acids extracted from the rock exudate Shilajit". Organic Geochemistry. 39 (12): 1719–1724.