Treasures may be found everywhere for those who have eyes to see—a perfect example of this being Shilajit, one of the most prized medicines throughout Asia for the last few thousand years. In its “wild habitat” you could be forgiven for simply thinking that it was a tar-like substance oozing from the cracks in between rocks high up in the Himalayan Mountains. And the locals did for many thousands of years; however, in ancient times one had to look for clues from nature to better understand their natural habitat—particularly what was safe and what was poison. Upon seeing packs of native chimps snacking on the Shilajit tar and further observing that those who did seemed to be the strongest, most intelligent and long-lived of the bunch, the indigenous people began ingesting the night-black mineral pitch themselves. When they too began experiencing the benefits:—a rapid restoration of their health and enhanced cognitive and physical abilities—they knew they had stumbled on a great discovery.
Oral tradition has it that this is how Shilajit was originally discovered. Maybe so, maybe not, but either way decades of intense scientific analysis and study have revealed that Shilajit is one of the most nutrient-dense substances on the planet. And what’s more, is that the nutrients it contains, such as naturally occurring humic and fulvic acids—two of nature’s most potent detoxifiers of heavy metals and other pollutants that disrupt the natural function of the body, and are quite rare to boot.
Known euphemistically as the “destroyer of weakness,” much can be learned about the incredible properties and benefits of Shilajit by understanding the process of how it is created. Over the course of millions of years, the lush primeval vegetation that once blanketed Asia was decomposed by the forces of nature, eventually becoming highly compacted under the weight of the mountains, which later formed as continental plates collided. Over 6,500 different species of ancient plants spent many millennia in a sort of geological alchemy that created a thick, black, resin-like substance trapped deep within the Himalyan, Caucasus, and other famous mountain ranges in the region. The relentless monsoons and ever-increasing pressure eventually caused this “tar” to begin seeping from cracks in rocks in the sides of the mountains.
Laboratory analysis of Shilajit reveals a complete spectrum of every essential mineral on the planet in ionic form—the most easily absorbable and assimilated by the human body. Scientists also found amino acids, fulvic and humic acids, ellagic acid, fatty acids and plant sterols, which tend to have a harmonizing effect on the hormonal/endocrine system, among many others.
Although shamans and medicine men of the time could not possibly have understood its complex and unusual composition, they could easily discern the beneficial effects Shilajit was having on the people they treated, which was a massive restoration of health and well being.
The Benefits of Shilajit
Shilajit acts on many different systems in the body, earning it a place among the prized natural medicines known as adaptogens, meaning it helps to restore balance to one’s system, whether that is through reducing excess (stress and cortisol, for example) or nourishing deficiencies (promoting sound sleep and giving endurance, strength and stamina) within the body’s various systems.
One of the primary ways it does this is through its action on the endocrine system. As the master controllers of the body’s thousands of delicately tuned processes, hormones—or the lack thereof—have a very large influence on your health. They control mood, libido, sleep-wake cycles, hair growth, cognition, energy, consciousness and much more. Therefore it should come as no surprise that Shilajit has long been valued for its ability to restore sexual function, promote cognitive abilities, reduce anxiety and stress, improve mood and generally extend one’s lifespan. Quite impressive, to be sure.
However, Shilajit’s beneficial medicinal properties are not solely limited to the endocrine system. It has also been shown to reduce pain and inflammation, making it one of the most sought after remedies for those suffering from arthritis. It also has a healing effect on the digestive tract, with the notable ability to repair ulcerated intestines and keep harmful bacteria in check.
And, of course, it is also a great remineralizer and detoxifier, removing heavy metals and replacing them with those the body needs for health and wellbeing. It has also been used to treat allergies, malnutrition, anemia, and broken bones. It’s kind of like water: life is just better when you consume it regularly.
Selecting Quality Shilajit
Shilajit can be found seeping wildly in many mountain ranges across Asia, although each culture tends to have its own name for the substance. In Western and Central Asia it is typically referred to as Moomiyo, but in the areas in and around the Himalayas, it is referred to as Shilajit. While this may seem semantical, it is an important distinction due to the fact that, depending on the source, Shilajit/Moomiyo will have different compositions. Generally speaking, the best quality Shilajit is believed to originate from the Himalaya area.
Purified Ladakh Shilajit resin from a tenth-generational family of herbal alchemists, considered by many to be some of the world’s best Shilajit.
It can be cut with a knife and is similar in texture to a hard candy, although more pliable. Photo: Lerina Winter
However, because Shilajit is somewhat rare and difficult to collect, as well as the fact that the world’s supply originates in developing countries, the quality varies widely in the products currently available through various health food stores and websites worldwide.
The most sought after and rare form is the night-black mineral resin, with only a handful of companies selling it worldwide. It is a sticky, wet-looking “tar” that is an intensely concentrated and purified form of Shilajit. It can be pricey, although a little goes a long way, making even a small amount last for months, even at higher dosages.
That being said, there are many excellent, more affordable Shilajit products that come in a powdered form—though they will generally be slightly less concentrated and potent than the pure resin. The primary benefits of the powder are the ease of use, price, and the ability to measure precise amounts, if needed, as the resin itself is quite sticky.
When using a powder discernment is needed , as not all brands are equal. The vast majority of products available worldwide are actually diluted Shilajit powders. Pure Shilajit resin is composed of approximately 2% to 10% naturally occurring humic and fulvic acids with the remaining portion composed of minerals and other medicinal substances. However, adulterated products are typically 10% to 30% actual Shilajit powder and about 70% to 90% extracted humic and fulvic acids, which can be produced cheaply in a lab and added afterwards. While not dangerous, the adulterated Shilajit powders do not posses the same powerful medicinal properties.
Several studies and patent applications have reported shilajit to contain 70-85 minerals in their ionic form, with other organic compound such as resins, humic acid, fulvic acids, fatty-acids, amino-acids, triterpenes, benzoic acid, multiple enzymes, and steroidal saponins.
Pure Shilajit always has a distinct, strong piercing tar-like odor that is unmistakable. If the product you have does not have a noticeably intense smell or seems ‘faint’, then it is likely old or diluted Shilajit.
When it comes to scientific studies on the uses and benefits of shilajit supplements, there aren’t many, but the effects are – more or less – impressive.
In 2010, Indian researchers gave their 35 infertile test-subjects 200mg/day of shilajit extract for 90 consecutive days. When the hormone and sperm parameters were compared from day 1 to day 90, the research noted following improvements;
Total sperm count rose by 61%.
Sperm quality increased by 37%.
Serum testosterone levels increased by 23%, and FSH rose by 9%.
Markers of oxidative damage also went down, whereas hemoglobin slightly increased.
One more recent study from 2015 (sponsored by shilajit manufacturer PrimaVie) showed that in healthy volunteers aged between 45-55 years, 250mg/day of shilajit extract for 90 days was able to;
Increase total-testosterone levels by 20%
Increase free-testosterone levels by 19%
Boost DHEA levels by 31% while maintaining normal LH and FSH levels.
Shilajit also has a potential nootropic effect, on smaller animal studies it has been noted that shilajit can activate the hypothalamic glycine and GABA-receptors of rodents, this should have a “calm and relaxing” effect on the brain, reduce anxiety, and promote sleep quality. One rat study actually tested shilajit as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome and found significant improvements. Two other studies have theorized that shilajit could be effective for protection against Alzheimer’s disease (study, study).