The first time I came across Shilajit and saw it in its full glory was when my Kashmiri friend had moved to Mumbai and introduced it to me! His mum had packed a big rock of shiny Shilajit for her son's overall wellness - they had an old way of preparing it and consuming it. In 2013, I first found out about this naturally occurring herbomineral drug found in the pristine Himalayas.
I came back home and asked my mom, may I take Shilajit for my well-being? She laughed and said it's to enhance men's fertility and testosterone. I left it because that is not what I was looking for and wondered if that is why my Kashmiri friend carried it with him; to conquer the women of Mumbai? As Shilajit translates to "conqueror of mountains."
I never thought about Shilajit again until December 2020, when my maternal grandfather, an excellent doctor (the first batch of physicians from Banaras Hindu University) for the last 60 years, mentioned it. I was intrigued yet again and asked him if the uses are only for men's health. To my surprise, he said, that's what people feel because it improves sperm count and sexual stamina, hence termed as an ayurvedic sex drug. But there are various other uses of Shilajit in ayurvedic medicine. Suppose one wants to know what a beautiful gift Shilajit is; in that case, they must read books such as Charak Samhita and Susruta Samhita (which my grandfather has). I do not have the patience for translation, as these books are ancient and written in Sanskrit. Being a true blue millennial, Sanskrit is the last thing I want to indulge in. I feel incompetent for not knowing our sacred language.
So I dug deeper in my way to find the correct information. I was appalled at the health benefits our very own Mr Shilajit brings to the table!
What is Shilajit, and where is this Elixir of life found?Shilajit is a pale brown to a blackish-brown shiny rock consisting of pure gum/resin and organic plant materials compressed under rock layers over centuries. It contains the following minerals, metals, and metabolites in their natural forms:
- Copper, Silver, Zinc, Iron
- Humic Acid, fulvic acid, amino acids
There are 84 nutrients found in Shilajit, out of which Fulvic acid is considered the main ingredient.
It is found in the lower Himalayan altitudes between May to July at 1000 - 5000 meters in Uttrakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh. It is also found in some parts of Bhutan, Nepal, China, Tibet, and Afghanistan.
Uses & Health Benefits of Shilajit
One of Shilajit's most exciting uses I found is treating high altitude problems for the commoner or soldiers ascending from lower altitude to higher altitudes in India's Himalayan region. A range of issues arises from low atmospheric pressure such as acute mountain sickness, insomnia, tiredness, pulmonary oedema, lack of appetite, lethargy, chronic fatigue and body pain. Shilajit is consumed to overcome such issues in these areas. Maybe, mother nature made it available in the region because she knew her earthlings would need this herb to overcome her harsh environment.
On further research, I found tremendous scientific information on the uses and benefits of Shilajit, some in proper controlled studies and some in passing down ancient traditional knowledge. People living in the Himalayan region relying on conventional medicine will affirm that no actual research is required because the most significant proof is generations of north Indian families, sherpas consuming it and living a good, happy and healthy life with minimal medical intervention.
The following are a list of diseases/conditions that Shilajit helps manage, cure or even prevent in some cases:
Alzheimer's Disease & Brain function:
The various compounds found in shilajit may help brain function and even support Alzheimer's therapy. A recent study in the International Journal of Alzheimer's disease mentioned that shilajit is traditionally used for longevity and slow down ageing. The compounds in it may help cognitive control disorders, such as Alzheimer's. Researchers anticipate shilajit to have an impact in preventing mental illnesses. Still, more detailed result-oriented research is needed to explore these possibilities.
It helps in the proper absorption & digestion of food, maintaining a balanced GI tract state.
Weakness & Muscular Degradation:
Helps in energy production by travelling in deep tissues of your body, healing fractures and reducing recovery time for injured muscles.
It is blessed with tremendous benefits to overcome physical and mental stress.
Helps both infertile men and women increase their vitality and sexual vigour. There are proven studies of increased sperm count of men who consumed shilajit daily post-diagnosis of low sperm count and motility.
The fulvic acid found in Shilajit acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that reduces cellular damage and free radicals in the body. These two factors are the main contributors to ageing.
Anaemia develops in your body when the blood does not have haemoglobin or enough healthy cells, red blood cells. One of the many cause of anaemia is iron deficiency. Iron deficiency anaemia symptoms are irregular heartbeat, weakness and fatigue, cold hands and feet, and headaches. Shilajit has high levels of humic acid and iron, which might help treat anaemia. However, it would be best to explore this option with your ayurvedic practitioner or your general physician before taking the supplement.
Shilajit may also protect your heart and improve your heart health. Recent studies in rats showed the protective effects shilajit has on the heart. Animals treated with shilajit before cardiac injury had lesser damage to the heart than those who did not consume shilajit. It is crucial to know that shilajit may lower blood pressure in some cases and should not be consumed by anyone who has an active heart condition.
Being overweight strains your body and tires your muscles quickly. A published study in a medicinal food journal observed that obese people who took an oral supplement of pure shilajit responded better to exercise than those who did not. Researchers noted that shilajit activated genes in your body help the skeletal muscles quickly adapt to a new workout regime. This may mean less fatigue and increased strength over time.
Other uses and effects of shilajitIn addition to the ones mentioned above, it helps support the human body in the following ways:
- Maintains cardiac health and is anti-inflammatory - which prevent a lot of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancers
- It helps maintain a healthy urinary tract and prevent UTIs.
- Manage Diabetes, even reverse at times - if followed with a proper lifestyle
How can one consume it?
Shilajit needs to be purified. The formulation cannot be consumed as it may have impurities such as dirt, soil, and fungus. Because it is one of the essential minerals in Ayurveda, proper care and steps need to be taken to purify this life gift. Sodhana, aka purification, is carried out using ghee or Triphala decoction to eliminate impurities and increase efficacy.
The easiest way to consume this is via a certified Ayurvedic practitioner who will know in what quantities, for how long, and method of consumption will suit you depending on your body's doshas. One can read more on it here https://www.theauric.com/blogs/news/ayurveda-dosha-analysis.
There are various brands out there selling shilajit capsules or purified shilajit that can be had with lukewarm water or milk and consumed daily before meals or after meals as suggested by your ayurvedic physician as a dietary supplement. It is a very potent mineral and primarily safe to consume to maintain energy levels unless done in large quantities based on self-diagnosis and lack of proper guidance. Initially, your ayurvedic physician may suggest you consume it daily and then reduce the frequency.
Side EffectsResearch studies prove that shilajit is safe for long-term use. However, there are some side effects of using shilajit, such as :
- It may lower blood pressure, which can be dangerous for people on daily high blood pressure medications. Those with an active heart condition or a history of hypotension (low blood pressure) should avoid taking shilajit to prevent a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
- Low-quality shilajit might contain heavy metals, free radicals, and even arsenic.
One must be aware as to why they are consuming Shilajit and watch the magic unfold! Do not consume without purifying. In large quantities, it may lead to unpleasant side effects like all things found in nature, such as allergic reaction, dizziness, or increased heart rate. Consume it if you need to maintain a bodily balance, not for your greed.
Authored by: Padmaja Rai
About the Author: Padmaja is a healthcare consultant and avid fitness enthusiast. She holds a masters' in bio-innovation and rare diseases from University of Pennsylvania. She is a firm believer in ancient Indian holistic healing.