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Shilajit as a general health booster - a fresh look

How is Shilajit Produced?

Shilajit is a nutrient- and mineral-rich biomass, often classified as a herbomineral due to the complex and eclectic nature of its active compounds. 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. “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. 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.” 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. Bioactive Components 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 say that Shilajit also supports energy production and tissue recovery, improves blood flow, and reduces the negative impact of psychological and physical stress. 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 probably contains many compounds that act in synergy.

Types and Origins of Shilajit

The exact composition of Shilajit is influenced by factors such as

  • 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

  • Humidity

  • Altitude

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. Four different varieties have been described:

  • 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. Proper Purification vs. Low-quality Products Shilajit in its natural form (so-called “native Shilajit”) is often contaminated by varying mycotoxins, heavy metals, free radicals, and other potentially hazardous compounds. 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. 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.

Health Benefits of Shilajit

Effects on Testosterone & Fertility in men. Shilajit is traditionally used for improving reproductive health in men. 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 According to some theories, the HPA axis can have a profound impact on energy, cognition, and circadian rhythm. Thus, certain practitioners think that rebalancing it should be the main goal for people with chronic fatigue. Shilajit could restore the HPA axis and reduce chronic fatigue syndrome in rats. It reduced tiredness and anxiety while preventing excessive drops in cortisol levels and adrenal weight. 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 damage in rats with chronic fatigue. Gut Health As an antioxidant, Shilajit is being researched for protecting the body from stomach damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation. 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. 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. Heart Health Shilajit may have heart-protective properties. It may act by increasing levels of the master antioxidant glutathione. It also provides the body with various nutrients that 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. 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. While this study highlights the nootropic potential of high-quality Shilajit, it also warns about the dangers of low-quality, unpurified Shilajit formulations. Effects on Iron & High Altitude 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 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. Stress and Anxiety Shilajit may increase dopamine levels in limbic, and 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. 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. Inflammation High neutrophils can damage tissues and worsen inflammation. Scientists are exploring whether humic and fulvic acid, both found in Shilajit, reduce neutrophils and inflammation in the body. Potassium humate from Shilajit blocks complements activation, which reduces the level of numerous inflammatory substances (cytokines like TNF-a, IL-1b, IL-6, and IL-10) in cells. Brain Function 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]. Alzheimer’s Disease 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. Radiation 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. 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. Diabetes The antioxidant qualities of Shilajit protected insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas from destruction. Seizures In one study on rats, Shilajit sped up recovery from seizures. Higher doses had a stronger effect and could delay attacks and complications. Skin health: Das et al. (2019) reported that oral consumption of Shilajit can affect skin health and rejuvenates by stimulating endothelial cell migration and growth of blood vessels. There are already researchers suggesting it can be helpful in osteoporosis cases and bone-related defects.

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