Shilajit: 10 Health Benefits and It’s Use

Shilajit, also called mineral pitch, is the result of a long process of breaking down plant matter and minerals. It is a sticky, black, tar-like substance that comes from rocks in high mountain ranges.

Shilajit was traditionally sourced in India and Tibet, though it is now found in many other countries.

Shilajit has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and the compounds in it appear to be beneficial for many conditions.

Ten potential benefits of Shilajit

When it is used correctly, shilajit may have several benefits for the body. This may be due in part to the high concentration of fulvic and humic acids, as well as many minerals.

1. Brain function

man holding a red pill and a glass of water

Shilajit is formed from the slow decomposition of plant matter and is available as a supplement or powder.

The numerous compounds found in shilajit may be helpful for brain function, and may even aid Alzheimer’s therapy.

A study in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease noted that shilajit is traditionally used for longevity and to slow aging. The compounds in it may help control cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Researchers expect shilajit to have an impact in preventing cognitive disorders, but more research is needed to explore these possibilities.

2. Aging

One study noted that fulvic acid, one of the key compounds in shilajit, acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. As such, it may help reduce free radicals and cellular damage in the body, which are two key factors in aging.

Daily supplementation of shilajit may contribute to the overall vitality and a slower aging process in some people.

3. Anemia

Anemia develops when the blood does not have enough healthy cells or hemoglobin. There are many causes of anemia, including iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency anemia can cause numerous symptoms in the body, including:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • fatigue and weakness
  • cold hands and feet
  • headache

Shilajit contains high levels of humic acid and iron, which may be helpful in treating iron deficiency anemia. It is important to explore this option with a doctor before taking supplements, however.

4. Antiviral

The wide range of minerals and compounds found in shilajit may also help fight off viruses. A research study noted that shilajit could fight off and kill many different viruses in isolated environments, including some herpes viruses.

Researchers commented that while it does appear to be effective, more studies carried out with live subjects are needed to back up these claims.

5. Chronic fatigue

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that shilajit helped reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome in test subjects.

Researchers noted that shilajit might help improve cell functions in the body, which means it may reduce fatigue at the source of the problem and increase energy levels naturally.

6. Altitude sickness

One of the claims made by traditional practitioners is that shilajit can help alleviate altitude sickness. The changes in pressure at high altitudes can greatly affect some people. Symptoms of altitude sickness range from body pain and fatigue to lung congestion and low oxygen in the brain.

Shilajit is a complex substance that contains more than 80 different minerals, as well as fulvic acid and humic acid. Because of this broad spectrum of beneficial components, shilajit is thought to help reduce many symptoms of altitude sickness.

It may help improve the brain’s cognitive processes, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation, all of which could lessen altitude sickness.

7. Liver cancer

Shilajit also shows promise in fighting against certain types of cancer cells. One study found that shilajit helped force the destruction of cancerous cells in the liver.

It also stopped these cancer cells from multiplying. Researchers noted that their results show that shilajit has an anti-cancer effect, but more studies are needed.

8. Heart health

man having his blood pressure taken

As it may lower blood pressure, those with heart disease or hypotension should not take shilajit.

Shilajit may also protect the heart and improve heart health. A recent study using rats noted the protective effects shilajit has on the heart.

Animals who were treated with shilajit prior to cardiac injury had less damage to the heart than those who were not given shilajit.

It is important to note that shilajit may reduce blood pressure in some cases and should not be taken by anyone who has an active heart condition.

9. Obesity

Carrying extra weight can tire the muscles and put stress on the bones. A study in the Journal of Medicinal Food noted that people who were obese who took an oral supplement of purified shilajit responded better to exercise than those who did not.

Researchers noted that the shilajit seemed to activate genes in the body that helped the skeletal muscles quickly adapt to the new workout. This could mean less fatigue and more strength over time.

10. Male fertility and testosterone

Shilajit has also been studied to increase male fertility. One study gave 60 infertile men shilajit twice a day for 90 days.

After the test period, almost half of the men who completed the treatment showed an increase in total sperm count and sperm motility, or how many and how well the sperm move towards the egg, both of which are factors in male fertility,

Another study looked at the ability of shilajit to increase testosterone levels in healthy volunteers. Men between 45 and 55 years old were given shilajit for 90 days. At the end of this period, researchers noted significant increases in the levels of total testosterone.

Use

young woman holding a glass of milk in one hand and a glass of water in the other

Shilajit powder can be taken dissolved in water or milk.

Shilajit is available as a powder or as a supplement that can be dissolved in milk or water.

A person can dissolve a pea-sized portion of shilajit in liquid and drink it up to three times a day, depending on the instructions on the package.

The recommended dose of shilajit is 300 to 500 milligrams per day. However, it is important that a person speaks with a doctor before taking any natural supplements.

Potential side effects

Research suggests that shilajit is safe for long-term use as a dietary supplement. However, there are some potential side effects of using shilajit.

Shilajit may lower blood pressure, which can be dangerous for people on high blood pressure medications. People with an active heart disease or with a history of hypotension should avoid taking shilajit to prevent a drop in blood pressure.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor natural supplements, so it is important to get the supplement from a reputable source. Low-quality shilajit may be tainted with heavy metals, free radicals, and even arsenic in some cases.

Also,

Shilajit has several health benefits and is a safe and effective supplement when used correctly. It is always best to speak to a doctor about the correct dosage in each case.

Working directly with a doctor can also help a person monitor any potential side effects.

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Clinical Efficacy of Hibiscus in Improving Iron Status in Patients with Anemia

Anemia, defined as a hemoglobin (Hb) serum concentration of <11.0 g/dL at sea level, is usually caused by low intake and absorption of dietary iron. Anemia currently affects roughly 67.6% of the population in Africa, many of whom are concurrently exposed to malaria. In Tanzania, hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa, Malvaceae) flower and calyx infusions or juices are among several natural products used for anemia. Hibiscus contains several minerals, including iron, and ascorbic acid, which is known to increase iron absorption. In vivo, an aqueous extract of hibiscus significantly increased hematocrit (Hct) and Hb levels. Clinical trials have evaluated its use in lowering cholesterol, reducing hypertension, and controlling type 2 diabetes; however, none have examined its effect on iron deficiency. Therefore, these authors conducted a randomized clinical trial to measure the effect of hibiscus extract on iron status in patients with anemia.

Hibiscus calyxes were collected from local farms in March 2014, with a voucher specimen deposited in the herbarium of the Botany Department, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. An aqueous extract optimized for both ascorbic acid and iron extraction was prepared to contain 0.831 mg/g L-ascorbic acid and 0.078 mg/g iron. The extract was issued to patients in 10-day dose packs with instructions.

Of the 202 individuals screened, 130 who were eligible (aged 18-50 years, Hb between 8.0-12.9 g/dL for men and 8.0-11.9 g/dL for women [anemic], no use of vitamin or mineral supplements for 30 days before enrollment, no organ impairment, no chronic illness, no blood given or received in prior 6 months, not pregnant or nursing, residents of study area, no history of serious medical conditions, and no participation in any investigational trial for 90 days before the study) were randomly assigned into 4 groups with similar proportions of key characteristics (e.g., gender, age, and Hb levels) in each.

Patients in group D1 (n=35) drank 1 L of the product daily; those in D2 (n=34), 1500 mL; and those in D3(n=32), 2 L. Patients in D4 (control; n=29) took 200 mg ferrous sulphate yielding 65 mg ferrous iron daily. The primary endpoint was changed in iron status indicators (Hb level, serum ferritin [Fer], and Hct parameters [mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH), mean corpuscular volume (MCV), and red cell distribution width (RDW)]) between baseline and end of follow-up. Vital signs, laboratory tests, and questionnaires were used at baseline and at clinic visits every 10th day. Tests included complete blood count, renal and liver function tests, and hematology. Adverse events were assessed and classified as mild, medium, or severe. Compliance was monitored through home visits by village health workers in addition to clinic visits.

Patients, from 8 villages in Mkuranga District, Tanzania, had a mean age of 37 ± 11.8 years; 79 (60.8%) were women. About 20% had been ill in the 12 months before baseline, with urinary tract infections most common (41.7%). About 34% were using antibiotics at baseline; 32.7%, analgesics. “A significant proportion” of patients with no reported illness was taking medicine. There were no significant differences among groups in red blood cell characteristics, nutrition, or inflammatory markers at baseline (P>0.05 for all). After 4 weeks, 82 patients remained in the study—18 in group D1, 24 in D2, 21 in D3, and 19 in D4. A total of 37 were lost to follow-up for unknown reasons; others, for medical reasons or by moving away. Malaria (58 cases) did not cause any cited dropouts. Baseline data on malaria status are not provided.

In this study, the hibiscus treatment was not effective in treating anemia, but showed potential for improving hematological parameters. Fer levels rose significantly in D4 (control; P=0.0014) compared to baseline; in other groups, nonsignificantly (P>0.05). RDW fell, although nonsignificantly, in all groups compared to baseline, most noticeably in D3 (P=0.2754). There was a significant decrease in MCH in D1, D2, and D4 compared to baseline (P<0.05 for all); in D3, there was a nonsignificant decrease in MCH (P=0.0571). In D1 and D4, significant declines in Hb were seen compared to baseline (P=0.0123 and P=0.0219, respectively). [Note: In the article text, the value for D1 is given as P=0.123.]

The authors call for studies with larger populations. Findings differ from a study of hibiscus and pineapple (Ananas comosus, Bromeliaceae) juice, with an average increase in Hb after 9 days that exceeded conventional anemia treatment (+2 g/dL in 3 weeks). Additional studies are also needed to examine the complex comorbidities of anemia and malaria. A recent study in Tanzania found that “iron deficiency appears to protect against both malaria infection and mortality.”1,2

References

1Richards S. Iron deficiency protective against malaria. The Scientist website. Available at: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31974/title/Iron-Deficiency-Protective-Against-Malaria/. Published April 13, 2012. Accessed October 4, 2017.

2Gwamaka M, Kurtis JD, Sorensen BE, et al. Iron deficiency protects against severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria and death in young children. Clin Infect Dis. April 15, 2012;54(8):1137-1144.

Peter EL, Rumisha SF, Mashoto KO, Minzi OMS, Mfinanga S. Efficacy of standardized extract of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. (Malvaceae) in improving the iron status of adults in malaria endemic area: a randomized controlled trial. J Ethnopharmacol. September 14, 2017;209:288-293.