Shilajit is a substance that has been used in the Ayurvedic practice for centuries to support urinary tract health, sexual health, a healthy internal response, and much more. Extracted from rocks, this black, tar-like substance is often available as a powder or resin and is composed of over 85 minerals and trace elements. In recent years, shilajit has become popular in the mainstream wellness world for supporting overall health. So just what is shilajit, and could it make a difference for your health?
What is Shilajit?
Shilajit is sometimes referred to as “mineral pitch,” “mineral wax,” or “moomiyo,” although the word itself comes from Sanskrit origins and means “rock conqueror.” Primarily, this substance is found in the high mountainous regions of India and Tibet, specifically in the highest points of the Himalaya, Altai, and Caucasus mountain ranges. The most popular shilajit is derived from sources 16,000-18,000 feet above sea level. Depending on the grade, shilajit ranges in color from yellowish brown to pitch black. Freshly extracted shilajit somewhat resembles an igneous rock.
Interestingly, shilajit is likely derived from vegetable sources, although many people disagree about whether it is actually from mineral or biological sources. In fact, there is no definitive answer about shilajit’s origins. Researchers believe that this substance was formed over many thousands of years, when plants, vegetables, and other organic matter were trapped in layers of rock. Over time, the pressure from the mountains and the extreme changes in temperature causes the plants to break down into their mineral components and form a resin that flows out of the rocks. This form of shilajit has earned it the nickname “rock sweat,” and it typically occurs in the summer months.
Types of Shilajit
As a resin, shilajit has a glossy tone, and when taken as a supplement has a distinctive bitter flavor. There are several subtypes of shilajit, which are denoted by color, region from which it was extracted, and consistency. Colors typically range from a yellowish-brown to pitch black, depending on the materials that compose it. According to Ayurvedic principles, there are four primary types of shilajit, and each are associated with a particular color, or more specifically, the type of rock from which it was derived.
- Swarna shilajit, which is yellowish red, is thought to be derived from gold
- Rajat shilajit, a white-ish silver color, is thought to be derived from silver Tamra shilajit, a vibrant blue shade, is thought to be derived from copper
- Lauha shilajit, a pitch-black shade, is thought to be derived from black iron
The most sought-after shilajit in Ayurveda is pitch black, and it is usually available in either a resin or powder form.(1) It has been taken daily for many years in Nepal and Northern India, and is popular even among children, who add it to milk in the mornings to support overall health and longevity. To truly understand how shilajit may work to support your health, it’s important to understand how this substance fits within the larger framework of Ayurveda.
A Brief History of Shilajit
Like many Ayurvedic ingredients, the history of shilajit is at once practical and mythological. According to ancient Vedic texts, King Chandra Varma ruled India for many years. When he finally obtained peace in the kingdom, he was in poor health and unable to enjoy old age. To remedy this, Varma traveled to the Himalayan mountains, where the god Shiva provided him with a substance from his (Shiva’s) body to restore his health. This substance is thought to be shilajit.(2)
Other mentions of shilajit throughout history include the writings of Aristotle, who recommended taking shilajit with honey, milk, and grape juice. Alexander the Great and Tamerlane are also thought to have taken shilajit to support health and longevity.
It is also thought that the writers of early Ayurvedic texts observed monkeys consuming shilajit and tried it for themselves, since observance and harmony with the natural world is ingrained in Ayurvedic practice.(3) This practice was later observed by the explorer Sir Martin Edward Stanley, who noted that these monkeys seemed youthful and full of energy. Stanley was also one of the first to record the process of purification, which he learned from locals in the surrounding area. In the 20th century, Russian scientists used shilajit to offer support for broken or fractured bones.(4)
Shilajit’s Role in Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a system of traditional medicine that has developed over thousands of years. It is primarily practiced in India and other parts of Asia, although it has recently gained popularity in the United States and other parts of the Western Hemisphere. Today it is thought that between 80 and 90% of the population in India practices Ayurveda, as well as about 700,000 people in the United States.
Ayurveda is founded on the idea of balance between the mind, body, and the natural world. The word comes from a combination of words meaning “life,” (ayur), and “knowledge,” (veda). It is thought that when the mind and body are in balance, a person will achieve optimal health. Health issues may occur when the body is out of balance with the mind, but following certain practices and consuming specific nutrients is thought to support a balanced body and mind.
According to Ayurveda, there are three energies, or doshas that govern the body. These three doshas are kapha, pitta, and vata, and each are associated with elements or a combination of elements. Kapha is associated with earth and water, pitta is connected to fire, and vata is connected to air and space. These doshas are believed to control not just your physical characteristics, but also influence your emotional health and personality traits. Often, supplements like shilajit are taken in order to maintain a balance of doshas.
The first mention of shilajit occurs in the Ayurvedic texts Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, which are ancient Ayurvedic texts that offer information on herbs, internal medicine, surgery, toxicology, fertility, pediatrics, ear, eye, and throat issues, and general guidelines for overall health and longevity. These texts mention a resin-like substance that works to support overall health. The Shusruta Samhita described shilajit as “a gelatinous substance that is secreted from the side of the mountains when they have become heated by the rays of the sun in the months of Jyaishta and Ashadha. This substance is what is know as Çilájatu and it cures all distempers of the body.”
It is thought that shilajit is “tridoshic,” meaning that it can be used to balance all three doshas, although many Ayurvedic practitioners caution using it in excess if pitta is your primary dosha. It is considered by some to be a “panacea,” or “cure-all,” meaning it supports overall health and wellbeing. According to the Caraka Samhita, there is no disease in the universe that cannot be cured by shilajit, when administered at the appropriate time and when combined with a specific dosing regimen and other nutrients and medicines.
The process for refining shilajit is crucial, as we can only consume purified shilajit. It cannot simply be taken raw, as much of shilajit contains inedible substances like sand, small rocks, fibers, and more. These items must be removed in order to take shilajit as a supplement and to produce the resin that is shilajit’s most well known form.
There are several methods used to refine shilajit although the most common practice involves water extraction and heat extraction. The water extraction process is similar to one used on pitch, where the shilajit dissolved in hot water and is then filtered to remove impurities. The next step concentrates the resulting filtered materials through direct heating or exposure to sunlight (although the sunlight method is much less common). As the shilajit heats, a layer of resin forms on the top of the materials. This layer is skimmed off, and the process is repeated until it forms another layer of resin, which is also skimmed off — this may be repeated several times until there is a desired amount of resin.
Other methods do use sunlight for heat extraction, and this is referred to as pure shilajit, or “Surya Tapi.” This process is similar to the one described above, although it is much more painstaking and time consuming than other methods. Most Ayurvedic practitioners agree that it’s important to choose properly extracted shilajit if you’re planning to take it as a supplement. It is thought that shilajit’s health supportive properties may be less potentially beneficial if you choose improperly purified shilajit.
When taken as a supplement, shilajit has a strong, bitter, and astringent taste; so many people either take it as a capsule supplement, or dissolve a pea-size amount in water. The 85 minerals (including selenium) in shilajit are ionic, which means that they are thought to be easily absorbed by the body and according to Ayurvedic principles, work to maintain a healthy energy metabolism and equilibrium. Other compounds in shilajit include some fatty acids, amino acids, polyphenols, and more. One of the most important substances in shilajit is fulvic acid.(5)
Fulvic acid is one of the components of a group of compounds called humic substances, which form naturally during the decay of plant and animal materials. Unlike the other humic substances, fulvic acid is water soluble, and is lower in molecular size and weight. Among other properties, it is thought to support healthy looking skin, promote a healthy internal pH, and support immune system health. In a 2011 study, researchers noted that a topical application of fulvic acid supported healthy looking skin and was “well tolerated, with no difference in reported side effects other than a short-lived burning sensation on application.” Fulvic acid is also an antioxidant, so it works to protect cells from free radical damage.(6)
Shilajit also offers support for a number of other health issues including the following:
- May support urinary tract health — shilajit may also support prostate, bladder, and kidney health.
- Promotes a healthy sex drive — it may also support a healthy hormone balance and a healthy libido.
- Supports healthy blood pressure levels already in the normal range
- Promotes a healthy internal response
- Supports blood health — shilajit contains trace minerals and iron that may support both red and white blood cell health
- Promotes joint health
- Offers antioxidant support
- Supports reproductive organ health, especially for women
- May promote detoxification
- May support cardiovascular health
Shilajit also supports absorption and bioavailability of other nutrients, so it is often taken in conjunction with other supplements to support a healthy memory,(7) a healthy response to stress, and healthy energy levels.(8)
A number of studies have been conducted on the effects of shilajit on the human body. One study aimed at patients with Alzheimer’s discovered that shilajit may support cognitive health. Researchers concluded “Shilajit is a potent and very safe dietary supplement, potentially able to prevent several diseases, but its main medical application now appears to come from its actions in benefit of cognition.”(9) In another study, scientists studied the effects of shilajit on internal health. They theorized that the plant polysaccharides found in shilajit supports a healthy internal response, and that supplementing with shilajit may offer potential benefits for optimal health.(10)
Shilajit is also used to support a healthy hormone balance and a healthy libido in men. A 2015 study also looked at the effect of shilajit on testosterone levels in healthy volunteers. In the double blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers discovered that “treatment with shilajit for consecutive 90 days revealed that it has significantly (P < 0.05) increased total testosterone, free testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) compared with placebo.”(11) While studies into shilajit’s other potential health benefits are ongoing, it seems as though there are a number of results that indicate this substance could support several health issues.
Choosing a Shilajit Supplement
If you decide to add a shilajit supplement to your health routine, there are a number of products available, depending on your personal needs. Shilajit is available in capsules, as a powder, and as a resin. Many shilajit supplements also contain other ingredients and nutrients to support urinary tract health, kidney health, muscle and joint health, and more. It is also sometimes found with CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10) to offer antioxidant support. As in the study above, shilajit is also combined with nutrients to support sexual health and prostate health in men, as well as overall health in both men and women.
If you’re looking to try shilajit for yourself, you’ll find lots of options at Natural Healthy Concepts. Browse our selection and try this unique substance for yourself!