It’s pronounced she-la-jeet and is said to be a superfood. But if you don’t even know for sure whether or not it’s a food, let alone where it comes from, can you really call it one?
That may sound like a bizarre question to ask, but it’s exactly what’s happening with this mysterious tar-like substance from the Himalayan mountains. Theories on Wiki, WedMD, Mayo Clinic, Reddit, and Yahoo Answers are all guessing about the origin of this mineral pitch.
Those in Russia and the former Soviet republics call it mumiyo or moomiyo. Over in India, the meaning of shilajit in English is destroyer of weakness and conqueror of mountains, when translated from Sanskrit. Other names they call it include “mountain blood” and “mountain tears.”
Dramatic descriptions but they don’t tell us what it is!
What is shilajit?
The Chinese call it wu ling zhi which means flying squirrel poop. Fortunately, that’s not what it really is!
Shilajit resin is a rare sticky dark-brown substance of unknown origin. It is found at high altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 16,000 feet, in the East and Central Asian mountains ranges of the Himalaya, Tibet, Altai, Caucasus, and Gilgit Baltistan. Sometimes it’s found in solid chunks, other times you can see it literally appearing out of nowhere, as it oozes out of crevices in these rocky mountainsides.
Some believe it’s an herb or root extract, while others say it’s a mineral-rich tar seeping from the earth.The answer may be something in-between, as the composition of shilajit has been found to be 60% to 80% humic (1). That’s what you call the parts of soil which are organic (from decayed plants and animals).
Humic substances – including this one – are commonly called humus. That’s spelled with one “m” and should not be confused with the garbanzo bean condiment, hummus.
Rich garden soil, peat, and coal are all examples of humic acids and substances. Some are obviously much newer than others!
Where does shilajit grow or come from is not easily identifiable, since research suggests it is created over hundreds if not thousands of years. The vast majority of its humic composition is fulvic acid, which comes from decayed organic matter.
It has been theorized that one or both of the following plants may be the source of that matter, since they have been found growing near the areas where natural shilajit is found (2):
- Trifolium repens – A white clover which is in the bean family.
- Euphorbia royleana – This flowering species looks like a cactus, but it is a succulent.
Since many of these liverworts are found growing in the USA and North America, those sources seem unlikely since you won’t find this resin anywhere here. Not even in the Rocky Mountains.
Certain types of molds have also been proposed as the source; Minium, Barbula, Thuidium, Fissidens.
The source of this mysterious brownish-black gum may be multi-faceted; certain species of plants, decayed by specific bacteria at a high-elevation.
Nutrition facts and ingredients
Without knowing precisely what it’s made of, you almost never see an ingredient label for this. It’s believed to be vegan. Gluten free too, since no gluten-containing plant matter has been detected inside.
In the United States, it’s not legal to market something as a food without nutrition facts. In turn, most companies only sell it as a dietary supplement, because they don’t have the nutritional requirement.
The only company we know of which provides the full nutrition is a supplier out of Santa Monica CA, selling it sourced from the Siberian mountains. You can buy it on Amazon.
Displayed here is their product label, showing information on the vitamins and minerals in shilajit resin.
As you see, no vitamins are listed, but some essential minerals are.
How many calories there are is 15 for a pea-sized serving of the tar-like substance.
Some people call it shilajit oil, but any inside would have to be mineral oil, not food oil. Why? Because animal and plant-derived oils have calories. This lists zero calories coming from fat.
More detailed scientific analyses?
The types of shilajit, whether from the Himalayas, Altai, or Caucasus mountain ranges, are mostly identical in terms of composition. These are all in the same region of the world, so it’s not that surprising.
After the fulvic acid content which is up to 70%, the next largest component is mineral matter (20-40%) and trace elements (5%). Breaking down those categories further, here is the list of minerals and substances identified:
- benzoic acid
- tannic acid
- vegetable matter
In total, up to 85 different minerals in the ionic form are found inside.
Shilajit vitamins are claimed by some casually written articles, but the scientific analyses do not make mention of any. It might be possible trace amounts are present from decayed plant matter, but that seems unlikely given how decayed it is.
When you see supplements that say there is vitamin C or vitamin B12 in shilajit, that’s because it’s being added. The resin itself is not a known source of those.
Heavy metal contamination?
Even plants which are organically grown in pristine soil will contain trace amounts of unwanted toxic metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. Likewise for the meat and dairy you eat.
There’s no avoiding those elements entirely, since they’re ubiquitous throughout the earth. Your goal with food and supplements is to avoid those which contain higher than normal amounts.
So yes, shilajit contains heavy metals, but how much?
Below is how its concentrations compare to coal tar (7). This tar is created by distilling mined coal. It is used in many parts of the world as a treatment for psoriasis, dermatitis and dandruff, however you don’t see that treatment used much today in Western medicine.
|mg per kg||mg per kg|
|Source of Sample||Institute of Traditional Medicine Services, Bhutan||P.C. Drug Center Co., Thailand|
The big differences are iron and nickel, which clock in at about 1,400% more than what’s in coal tar. Those are not concerning since they are essential minerals for human health, however nickel is only needed in trace amounts.
Lead poisoning is possible, but this test reported it having about 30% less lead, mercury, and cadmium than coal tar does. For arsenic, it’s 40% lower.
Of course, eating tar is not good for you, so this is not the best metric for comparison. Regardless, it at least shows you the amount of heavy metals present is not abnormal for a humic substance.
Is shilajit safe?It has been used as part of India’s Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, based on descriptions in ancient Vedic texts. Legend has it that the Himalayan villagers would observe the migrant white monkeys chewing on this resin. Being admires of the animals’ energy and vitality, they followed them to see where they were getting this gum – the monkeys were peeling it off of rocks.
In turn, the villagers began doing the same. They allegedly experienced more energy, better cognition, libido, and other health benefits after doing so. It was hailed as a fountain of youth. Or at least that’s how the story goes (8). Today they use it in India to make a shilajit tincture, which is a liquid concoction of multiple herbs.
In Russia and surrounding countries, dosages of moomiyo or mumie as they call it, have also been used for centuries.
Does shilajit really work? We will get to that in a moment.
Regardless of efficacy, it has been used by humans for millennia safely. Or more accurately said, if there is widespread harm being done, it has not yet been detected.
Possible side effects of shilajit include:
- Upset stomach
- Loose stools
- Sticking to teeth
- Lead and heavy metal poisoning
- Unknown pregnancy safety
- Lowering of blood sugar (not clinically proven)
- Lowering of blood pressure (not clinically proven)
It should not be considered safe for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding, since it has not been studied during those scenarios.
Children should not be given it for the same reason, especially since their developing brains and bodies are more susceptible to heavy metal toxicity in general.
The most likely adverse reaction – digestive discomfort – is often related to eating too much. Supplemental dosages used are very small, so anything more is probably not good for you.
Eating spoonfuls would be an overdose. The traditional therapeutic dosage of shilajit resin is 300 to 500 mg per day.
How long it takes to work is up to 6-8 weeks, until the purported benefits are observable.
With that low of a dosage, overdosing or poisoning from heavy metals in moomiyo seems unlikely, assuming the source is authentic.
How long we can take shilajit safely?
Without long term human studies it’s impossible to answer that question. In a study with rats they were fed 500 to 5,000 mg per kg of body weight daily for 3 months. No changes in weight were observed in any of their vital organs. Only at the highest dosage were side effects observed. (9)
Human doses tend to be 100 to 500 mg everyday. In the rats, the side effects were at 5,000 mg per kilogram of body weight.
They were histological changes in the liver (degeneration of hepatocytes) and the intestines (fusion of villi). They said this toxicity was caused by the excess iron, which causes the body to produce more ferritin to store the mineral. Even in those two organs, they claimed it “did not have significant change in the histological architecture.”
Based on the findings, they claimed it is “safe for long term use” but as a reminder, that’s just an animal study.
How to check purity of shilajit is impossible for the end user, which is probably the biggest danger. Given its rarity and high price, there are large amounts of counterfeit or fake shilajit for sale today. When it’s not real, it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s really inside. It could be watered down with toxic tar.
Is shilajit good for your health?
Even if it is safe for adults, that doesn’t mean it offers legit and effective benefit for men and women. What evidence is there that it increases energy, acts as a nootropic, and all the other claims being made by herbal medicine proponents?
Shilajit vs. fulvic acid
Since this is the main ingredient, it’s probably a good idea to start with this.
The PubMed database only lists two clinical trials for fulvic acid and both involve livestock, not humans.
In feedlot cattle it was said to “increase growth rate and feed conversion efficiency” (10). In baby pigs given nonnutritive food additives like zeolite and fulvic acid, they “were unsuccessful in ameliorating the increased osmotic diarrhea” (11).
Neither of these are relevant to the health claims being made for humans.
How it’s marketed
When it comes to claims and theories made by supplement manufacturers, Jarrow Formulas shilajit fulvic acid complex says the high levels of dibenzo-a-pyrones and dibenzo-a-pyrone chromoproteins inside work with CoQ10 in your mitochondria and that “boosts energy production in brain and muscle tissues during exercise.” That’s according to the product page on Jarrow’s website.
On the Dragon Herbs website, their High Mountain shilajit review says it supports the immune system and cellular metabolism in numerous ways, but it talks the most about detox. They say it is one of the largest classes of dissolved organic matters. Because of fulvic acid’s large surface area and high valency (its ability to bind to other atoms), Dragon Herbs believes it may act to help the body rid itself of simple toxins and act as a detox agent.
They don’t talk about the fulvic acid on their consumer facing website for the product. Instead, they seem to infer shilajit can cure erectile dysfunction (ED) by marketing Shilajit Gold for “strength, stamina, and vitality” with a tiger on the box and photos of couples being flirty and sensual.
Dabur says their capsules offer benefits for women too, but their Shila X Oil – with shuddha shilajatu, essential oils, and other ingredients – is listed for topical application by males only.
Other brands are even more direct in eluding to it being a natural Viagra. The so called Zandu Vigorex Gold male impotence treatment (alleged) and the NF cure capsules discuss erectile dysfunction in detail.
From strength and stamina, to being a nootropic and detox cleanser, the claims are diverse. Which of these advantages are real and which are fake?
To date, only three human clinical studies have been published. Two were in 2016 and one was in 2010. Let’s examine the oldest first, which was about fertility…
Shilajit benefits for men
In 2010, the First International Journal of Andrology published this study which came out of India (12).
- 28 men with confirmed low sperm counts completed the trial.
- Each consumed a twice daily dosage of a 100 mg shilajit capsule, taken after meals.
- 90 days was how long it was taken for.
A primary cause of infertility is too much oxidative stress (ROS) in the testicles. This is because the plasma membrane and cytoplasm of sperm contain a high amount of polyunsaturated acids, which are more susceptible to excess free radicals (13).
The other common cause is abnormal hormone levels; testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and/or follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
After the men were treated with this resin, the results suggested improvement for these problems…
- There was a 61.4% increase in sperm count after 90 days of use.
- Semen malondialdehyde (MDA), a marker for oxidative stress, decreased by 18.7% on average.
- Serum testosterone increased by 23.5%.
- Follicle stimulating hormone increased by 9.4%.
What’s even more surprising? 4 of those 28 men got their wife pregnant during or shortly after the treatment. The pregnancies were confirmed with lab tests. Some of those men had been trying for a long time, like the 32 year-old man (case study #4) who was suffering from infertility for at least 3 years prior, as he couldn’t get his wife pregnant.
With no side effects observed, the scientists claimed the dosage was safe and that:
“The present findings, based on advanced diagnostic and clinical methodologies, support preclinical evidence about the effective medical management of oligospermia with PS [shilajit supplement].”
As for why it might have been effective, they couldn’t say for sure. They theorized the mineral pitch constituents in the semen were at least partly responsible.
As far as other benefits, there was reporting of “distinct improvement in sexual activity” and a “decrease in anxiety and impending doom” but that was not quantified data.
What those statements even mean is unclear, as the words “penis” and “erection” were nowhere to be found in this 56 page study.
They might be related to erectile dysfunction and nervousness during sex, but you can’t compare Viagra vs. shilajit from these vague statements. Anyone citing this study as evidence of shilajit for libido, or increasing testosterone for bodybuilding, are grossly misinterpreting what it was about… male infertility.
Keep in mind there was no placebo control group in this study.
A study using older rats, both males and females, also suggested the potential for fertility advantages. In terms of safety, adverse reactions weren’t seen and the weights of their kidneys, heart, spleen, liver, and brain remained the same before and after treatment (14).
Shilajit weight loss and muscle study
There has been research using mice which suggested gene expression changes that may have anti-obesity effects. That’s what led the company PrimaVie to conduct a human clinical trial.
PrimaVie teamed up with Ohio State University to conduct it. This is the only human trial involving this supplement which is registered on ClinicalTrials.gov (identifier NCT02026414) (15). The results were published in a 2016 edition of Journal of Medicinal Food (16).
- 16 people completed the trial (10 women and 6 men)
- 35.7 years old on average
- Overweight, with BMI average of 29
- 500 mg daily dosage (250 mg twice per day) for 8 weeks, with an additional 4 weeks of that along with exercise.
Going into the study, the hypothesis was that the Himalaya shilajit would offer positive gene expression related to muscle function and that might help with weight loss.
Compared to the baseline measurements, there were 17 genes found to be “significantly upregulated in muscles” after the 8 weeks.
|Genes Upregulated in Skeletal Muscles Following Supplementation|
|Transcript cluster ID||Gene Symbol||Gene Description||Percent Change|
|18723098||COL3A1|MIR3606||Collagen, type III, alpha1|microRNA3606||518%|
|18811819||COL1A2||Collagen, type I, alpha2||513%|
|18942601||MMP2||Matrixmetallopeptidase2 (gelatinaseA, 72 kDa gelatinase, 72 kDa type IV collagenase)||373%|
|18798512||FNDC1||Fibronectin type III domain containing 1||330%|
|18817641||SFRP4||Secreted frizzled-related protein 4||314%|
|18830114||COL14A1||Collagen, type XIV, alpha1||208%|
|18864477||PLXDC2||Plexin domain containing 2||183%|
|18915509||LHFP||Lipoma HMGIC fusion partner||169%|
|18717539||ANTXR1||Anthrax toxin receptor 1||161%|
|18786580||EDIL3||EGF-like repeats and discoid in I-like domains 3||133%|
|18716082||LTBP1||Latent transforming growth factor beta-binding protein 1||133%|
|18956362||MRC2||Mannose receptor, Ctype2||132%|
|19022949||RNU5E-1||RNA, U5E small nuclear 1||131%|
The effects of shilajit on blood pressure were lower at 8 and 12 weeks, but the decrease was not statistically significant.
Likewise for lipids and blood sugar measurements. Good/HDL cholesterol increased and bad/LDL cholesterol decreased. Blood sugar actually went up on average by 3 points, which would not be good for diabetes, however that nor the changes in cholesterol were considered statistically significant.
|Baseline||After 8 Weeks||After 12 Weeks|
|Systolic Blood Pressure||114.3||114.8||112.1|
|Diastolic Blood Pressure||74.0||71.6||69.8|
|Pulse Per Min||70.1||72.4||70.8|
Creatine is important in the ATP replenishment of muscle tissue. The unaffected levels of creatine kinase “provided evidence for skeletal muscle integrity following oral supplementation.”
“The study provided maiden evidence that oral shilajit supplementation in adult overweight/class I obese human subjects promoted skeletal muscle adaptation through upregulation of ECM-related genes that control muscle mechanotransduction properties, elasticity, repair, and regeneration.”
Their scientific review couldn’t claim shilajit benefits for weight loss, since that was not observed (notice the before and after weights above). However the changes in gene expression, if the resin is responsible for that, might offer preliminary evidence for bodybuilders and athletes.
Carried out at a medical college in India, the goal was to find out if it increased testosterone in men (17).
- A total of 75 healthy men, age 45 to 55, completed the study.
- 38 of the men received a 250 mg dose of shilajit powder capsules to take twice daily.
- 37 men received placebo versions of these pills.
Before starting treatment, all of them completed the The St Louis University ADAM questionnaire, which gauges signs of testosterone deficiency. It asks about libido, energy levels, endurance, needing to fall asleep after dinner, and similar questions.
Testosterone in the blood was measured prior to start and on the 30th, 60th, and 90th day of using the supplements. DHEA, which is the precursor to testosterone, as well as luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, were also measured.
Here were the results…
About the free and total testosterone, it was concluded:
“…the rise of these two androgenic markers was significant. Testosterone synthesis and secretion was supported by the maintenance levels of two gonadotropic hormones LH and FSH as well as elevation of testosterone precursor DHEAs.”
Those 3 are the only ones involving humans. Here’s a quick of some of the other research which has been done.
Is shilajit addictive?
There’s no evidence of that, but there are opinions that it might help with addiction and the anxiety which results from substance withdrawal.
Using mice, it was found that in a dose dependent manner, ashwagandha and shilajit used together decreased anxiety from alcohol withdrawal (18).
They were said to work differently; shilajit benefited dopamine levels while ashwagandha boosted serotonin and GABA in mice. That’s why they said both offer promise, either together or separately.
A similar study used rats and a herbal complex which contained it, along with ashwagandha, tulsi/holy basil, and green tea extract (19).
Using alcohol withdrawal as a stress trigger, they claimed that the complex “was comparable to the standard drug alprazolam” which is the generic name for Xanax. That led them to suggest it “has the potential to be used as an alternative to benzodiazepines” in alcohol-induced anxiety in rats.
In Chinese Traditional Medicine, it has also been studied for opioid-dependence (20).
Related to mental stress, you will come across some opinions online that as a nooptropic, shilajit extract might help former Adderall and Ritalin users who suffer from ADHD, however those topics have not been studied. Not even in animals.
Shilajit for dogs’ arthritis
Nearly 1 out of 5 dogs in the US is said to suffer from arthritis. This double-blind study looked at what happened when 500 mg of this supplement or a placebo were given to dogs with the disease (21). They used it for 5 months and here were the results.
While not specific to arthritis, another study looked at 176 mice with inflicted inflammatory pain and found that the mumijo extract (as they called it) produced “a significant analgesic effect” that was “occurring in a dose-independent manner” (22).
Despite what some claim, there isn’t clinical research yet about using shilajit for joint pain in humans.
Resin for plants
Fulvic acid and humic are well-known biostimulants for organic gardening. They have been found to positively boost hormones for trees, flowers, vegetables, and fruits (yes, plants have hormones too) (23).
If you have money to burn with your gardening, perhaps you should consider using shilajit resin for plants. That’s what several garden message boards report success with. Although it hasn’t been scientifically studied, its main ingredient – fulvic acid – is confirmed to be good for plants.
To be clear this is not even a medically recognized term. It’s an unofficial term for a collection of symptoms including fatigue, body aches, and sleep disturbance. As with chronic fatigue syndrome, there is dispute as to whether it’s real.
Apoptosis is the process of programmed cell death. For mutated and cancerous cells, apoptosis is a good thing to happen.
Liver cancer cells cultured in the lab were treated with different concentrations over 24 hours. It was said that it “enhanced anti-cancer effects by inducing apoptosis and inhibiting proliferation” (26).
Due to its antioxidant activity and UV protective action, it has theorized that natural shilajit might reduce eye diseases, skin damage, and reduce the chance of skin cancer when used at high altitudes, where UV exposure is greater (27).
The popularity of authentic Nepal shilajit paste being used in Turkey may seem odd, given its distance from the Himalayan mountains. But it does have a following and this group of researchers there tested it on radiation-induced ovarian damage in albino female rats (28). Their conclusion stated it:
“…decreased the expression of p53, Bax, and caspase 3, thereby blocking the apoptotic pathways. Shilajit was found to be especially protective of primordial follicles.”
Although the cause of this horrific disease remains unknown, tangles of tau protein in the brain are among the foremost theories. There’s no question as to whether those with Alzheimer’s get them, but we don’t know if it’s a side effect or the actual cause (29).
Researchers in Chile claimed that its main ingredient, fulvic acid, is something that “blocks tau self-aggregation, opening an avenue toward the study of Alzheimer’s therapy” (30).
It has also been proposed that shilajit and B complex vitamins might help to prevent Alzheimer’s (31).
This is one that’s not being researched.
There are Ayurveda websites touting it as a tonic for kidney stones and chronic renal failure, but there’s no scientific evidence to support that.
The closest we could find was a study of 67 patients with kidney failure who were treated with a punarnavadi compound. Only 10% of the formula was this extract, the other 90% comprised of herbs and roots (32).
Is shilajit effective? Here’s the verdict
The list of minerals in shilajit include essentials, including many essential trace elements which are often ignored in nutrition. It might be that their ionic form or other factors related to bioavailability are what’s responsible for some of the apparent advantages.
However when you examine shilajit and its body of research, you realize it’s almost non-existent. That doesn’t mean all of the health benefits are fake, but you can’t claim any of them are proven. At least for now.
The good news is that the dosages used in the human studies were well tolerated without side effects. So at least it’s not bad for you to use.
How to take
Capsules are the most common and arguably the best choice, since it means a controlled amount of powder is inside. Some people use dried bulk powder or the wet paste, whose flavor is an acquired taste.
What does shilajit taste like? Earthy and bitter. Some liken it to unsweetened cocoa powder, but that description is deceptively positive. Its only redeeming quality is the saltiness. It actually smells like cow urine, if you’ve ever had the displeasure of whiffing that.
Some products mix it with honey, but it doesn’t taste that bad to need so much sugar.
If you don’t take it by capsule or tablet, creating a vanilla latte or diluting it in a glass of juice means the bitter taste and smell will be undetectable or nearly so. Some people mix it with ginseng, schizandra, and other herbs to make a tea and mask the flavor. If using the powder, blending in a beverage is the best way how to take shilajit. It can be taken with water too, if you don’t mind the flavor.
When to use it
It can be taken at night, in the morning, or anytime in-between. Some Ayurvedic herbs are only recommended in the winter, but there aren’t rules against using shilajit during the summer or any other season.
The best shilajit resin?
For starters, if you want selection you can forget the stores. Finding where it’s for sale is not easy, at least outside of India.
In Los Angeles, Whole Foods doesn’t sell it. GNC only carries Jarrow on their website. Vitacost has that and 3 other brands.
How many brands are there in total?
- Banyan Botanicals
- Dabur (Indian)
- Deemark (Indian)
- Dragon Herbs High Mountain
- Fountain of Youth
- Future Alchemy
- Healthforce Nutritionals
- Jarrow Formulas
- Lotus Blooming Herbs
- Multani Gold (Indian)
- Paradise Herbs
- Qarshi (Indian)
- Patanjali (Indian)
- Rudramani (Indian)
- Sunfood Raw Superfoods
- Swanson Vitamins
Being that no one can conclusively say where this tar comes from, it seems strange that someone is able to get it certified organic, don’t you think?
Whether you should go with shilajit powder vs. resin is not important, as it’s only a preference. The real elephant in the room is whether the brand you want is real, original shilajit.
User reviews won’t be able to tell you that, since not even they can know if it’s been watered down with something else.
To be clear, we are not insinuating any of the brands listed above are fake. We have no reason to believe they’re not real. But without knowing the supply chain and independently testing, it would be unfair for us to comment on their authenticity.
What we can say is that we ran into a representative at a health food store in West LA (Erewhon) who was having people sample the product. We spoke with her in-depth and felt confident they are offering a legit authentic source for the following reasons:
- Specialized – They only sell this ingredient and nothing else.
- Independently lab tested – They have a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for every batch to ensure lead, aluminum, and other bad metals are below California Prop 65 levels and the even the stricter European Union limits.
- Direct sourced – They get it from the Altai mountains in Siberia.
Their instructions say to just use a pea size dosage, which is equivalent to 300 to 500 mg. It easily dissolves in warm water, tea or milk. You can buy their shilajit resin on Amazon and we think it’s an excellent choice.
Of course, there are plenty of other quality brands on the market too. Whichever you choose, just make sure you review the details so you can be confident in your purchase.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.