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Shilajit is a black, viscous substance secreted primarily from rocks in the Himalayas. It is known as "rock juice" in Tibetan culture and is known in Ayurvedic medicine for its rich mineral content. This high-altitude mountain secretion is thought to increase stamina, rejuvenate and promote overall health.

1. What is shilajit?

Shilajit is thought to be formed through the gradual decomposition of plant material (including white clover) and various molds, facilitated by a variety of microorganisms over time (perhaps spanning centuries). However, the exact origin of shilajit remains controversial. Some suggest geological processes, such as the melting of metallic elements such as gold, silver, copper and iron, while others speculate on biological origins, including animal dung. Despite these different theories, most literature suggests that decaying plants are the primary source of shilajit.

Shilajit is mainly composed of humic acid, fulvic acid, dibenzo-alpha-pyrone, proteins and more than 80 minerals, and has a variety of chemical compositions. Humic substances, including fulvic acid, are decomposition products and are the main bioactive compounds found in shilajit, accounting for approximately 60%-80% of the total composition of shilajit. Fulvic acid is a small molecule that is easily absorbed in the intestines. It is known for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Additionally, dibenzo-alpha-pyrones, also known as DAP or DBP, are organic compounds that also provide antioxidant activity. Other molecules present in Shilajit include fatty acids, triterpenes, sterols, amino acids, and polyphenols, with variations observed depending on the region of origin.

2. Traditional uses of Shilajit

Throughout history, Shilajit has played a vital role in traditional medical systems such as Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine. In Ayurvedic medicine, Shilajit is considered a potent natural medicine with many benefits. Known as "rasayana," which means "rejuvenating," it prevents disease and improves quality of life.

Traditionally, it has been used to increase physical strength. In Sanskrit, "Shilajit" means "Destroyer of Weaknesses and Conqueror of Mountains." It is also known for promoting longevity, anti-aging, and preventing disease through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a cornerstone of Ayurvedic practice.

Its therapeutic potential has been recognized and exploited for centuries. In Nepal and northern India, shilajit is a staple in the diet and is regularly consumed for its health benefits. Common traditional uses include aiding digestion, supporting urinary tract health, treating epilepsy, relieving chronic bronchitis, and fighting anemia. Additionally, its adaptogenic properties help relieve stress and energy.

Ayurvedic practitioners use it to treat diabetes, gallbladder disease, kidney stones, neurological disorders, menstrual irregularities, etc. The claimed benefits are substantial and reflect its enduring reputation as a valuable natural resource.

3. The efficacy of shilajit has been scientifically proven

Research is steadily emerging across multiple fields to support the beneficial applications of Shilajit.

1) Energy and mitochondrial function

As we age, our mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) become less efficient at producing energy (ATP), which can lead to a variety of health problems, accelerate aging and promote oxidative stress. This decline is often associated with deficiencies in certain natural compounds, such as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) (a powerful antioxidant) and dibenzo-alpha-pyrone (DBP) (a metabolite of gut bacteria). Combining Shilajit (containing DBP) and CoQ10 is thought to enhance energy production in cells and protect them from damage caused by harmful molecules. This combination shows promise in improving cellular energy production, potentially supporting overall health and vitality as we age.

In a 2019 study examining the effects of Shilajit supplementation on muscle strength and fatigue, active men took 250 mg, 500 mg of Shilajit, or a placebo daily for 8 weeks. Results showed that participants who took a higher dose of shilajit showed better muscle strength retention after fatiguing exercise than those who took a lower dose or placebo. However, larger human studies are needed to validate these findings.

2) Cognitive function

Research on shilajit's effects on cognitive functions such as memory and attention is expanding. For Alzheimer's disease (AD), a debilitating disease with no known cure, scientists are turning to shilajit, extracted from the Andes, for its potential to protect the brain. In a recent study, researchers studied how shilajit affected brain cells in laboratory cultures. They found that certain extracts of shilajit can promote brain cell growth and reduce the clumping and tangles of harmful tau protein, a key feature of AD.

Another study focused on fulvic acid, the main active compound in shilajit. Research shows that fulvic acid prevents the formation of abnormal tau proteins in laboratory cultures and breaks them down after they form. These findings suggest that fulvic acid has the potential to treat AD. While these results suggest that shilajit has the potential to protect and repair the brain, further research in live human subjects is needed.

3) Heart health

Shilajit is known for its antioxidant properties and is also thought to have potential benefits for cardiovascular health. In a study involving healthy volunteers, taking 2 grams of shilajit daily for 45 days had no significant effect on blood pressure or pulse rate compared with placebo. However, significant reductions in serum triglyceride and cholesterol levels were observed, along with improvements in HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. In addition, shilajit improved participants' antioxidant status, increasing blood levels of key antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and vitamins E and C. These findings suggest that the fulvic acid content of shilajit has potent antioxidant activity, as well as potential lipid-lowering and cardioprotective effects.

A 2022 study that included postmenopausal women (a group at higher risk for heart disease) showed that shilajit supplementation reduced markers of oxidative stress and increased glutathione, a potent antioxidant molecule. Further research is needed to fully elucidate shilajit's mechanism of action as a potential treatment for heart health.

4) Male fertility

Emerging research suggests shilajit may have potential benefits for male fertility. In a 2015 clinical study, researchers evaluated shilajit's effects on androgens in healthy men aged 45-55 years. Participants took 250 mg of shilajit or a placebo twice daily for 90 days. Results showed significant increases in total testosterone, free testosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels compared with placebo. Shilajit showed better testosterone synthesis and secretion properties compared to placebo, possibly due to its active ingredient dibenzo-alpha-pyrone (DBP). Other studies have found that shilajit can improve sperm production and motility in men with low sperm counts.

5) Immune support

Shilajit has also been found to have positive effects on the immune system and inflammation. The complement system is an important part of the immune system, helping to fight infections and eliminate harmful substances from the body. However, if this system becomes overactive, tissue damage can result. Several therapeutic approaches aim to control this process, and repair of the complement system has been proposed as a strategy to treat inflammatory diseases. Studies have shown that shilajit interacts with the complement system to enhance innate immunity and modulate inflammatory responses, resulting in immune-enhancing effects.

6) Shilajit also has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce levels of the inflammatory marker high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.

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