What is Shilajit?

I have a friend who’s one of those power woman types who naturally glow, even after a 10-hour workday. She was visiting San Diego when I found myself admiring a black paste-like substance in a tin jar.

“What is this?” I was almost afraid to ask.

“It’s shilajit [shi-la-ji]…and I take it almost every day,” she said, “because of its ‘adaptogenic powers’.”  On most mornings she dissolves a tiny bit (about the size of a grain of rice) into her peppermint tea.

I had no idea shilajit was an adaptogen—and I thought I knew a lot about that topic.

A quick refresher on adaptogens:

They are natural substances that are believed to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect on bodily processes.  And that’s why I recommend taking a plethora of adaptogens on a daily basis.  In an interview with Well and Good, I stated that going with a reputable company is essential and pick a tea for constipation that does double duty by supporting your adrenals, too, by looking for ingredients like adaptogenic mushrooms. (Her go-to is Rishi Tea’s White Ginseng Detox Tea.)”

They also support physiological function through the two master control systems in the body: the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) and the sympathoadrenal system (SAS). Both ‘control systems’ are known to have a direct impact between your nervous and endocrine (hormone) system.

According to David Winston, one of the professional herbalists who founded the American Herbalists Guild, “There’s widespread confusion over what is and what is not an adaptogen.  The herbal community and researchers are all equally confused.”

Adaptogen List

Winston also explained that there are only about nine well-researched adaptogens: Asian Ginseng, American Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Schisandra, Rhodiola, Shilajit, Rhaponticum, and Cordyceps.

Some of the “probable” adaptogens are Holy Basil, Suo Yang, Tienqi Ginseng, Shatavari, Ba Ji Tian/Morinda Root, Aralia elata, and A. mandshurica — although Winston notes that these do not have quite the level of research that could clearly define them as adaptogens.

Now back to shilajit…

Turns out, this thick, tar-like substance comes mainly from the Himalayas and contains a variety of minerals in ionic form, as well as fulvic and humic acids, that are organic compounds found in nature from our earth’s soil, rock sediments and bodies of water.

These minerals are the result of microorganisms feeding off of decomposing flora from plant matter.

Note: It has been proposed that ionic minerals have a higher rate of absorption due to their positive and negatively charged molecules which could lead to higher levels of absorption by the body.

You know what I was up to the following day: researching shilajit –which is also called “mumie” and “mineral pitch” among other names as well.

According to the California College of Ayurveda, Shilajit has been used as a rejuvenator and an adaptogen for thousands of years and was first discovered by Himalayan villagers.

“They would observe large white monkeys gather and journey to the mountain tops each summer. The monkeys were frequently seen eating a soft, black substance that the villagers eventually realized came from the Himalaya Mountains. The villagers then started consuming this organic matter. It didn’t take long for them to realize its’ amazing healing powers of both physical and mental health, as well as increased muscle and bone strength and the potential of increased longevity.”

I interviewed Johann Helf, owner of Lotus Blooming Herbs, who stated that “Shilajit is unique as an adaptogen in that it not only helps one adapt to ones environment but, according to Ayurveda, Shilajit actually adapts to you and your individual imbalances. It has an intelligence. In Ayurveda it is said to be a substance which is capable of manifesting the very essence of any cell, ‘Prabuti Sara Bhuta Drowvya’ in Sanskrit. For this reason it is considered to be the ultimate Rasayana (Rejuvenation substance).”

This was all very fascinating to say the least, so I continued my search for papers on shilajit—see below:

Shilajit as an anti-viral:
In the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers investigated the antiviral activity of Shilajit against a panel of viruses including herpes simplex type 1 and 2 (HSV-1, HSV-2), human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human rotavirus (HRV), and vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV).  The results of this particular study demonstrated that shilajit is a  natural source of antiviral substances, but that further work remains to be done to assess its efficacy in vivo.

Anti-inflammatory properties of Shilajit:
Also adding to the research was the Journal of Phytotherapy that supports shilajit as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, adaptogenic, with immunomodulatory properties. Animal and human studies indicate that shilajit also enhances spermatogenesis, great for males and fertility.  The journal also supports its use “as a ‘revitalizer’, enhancing physical performance and relieving fatigue with enhanced production of

Humic acids and the microbiome:

The World Journal of Gastroenterology found that humid acids have a profound effect on the healthy colonic microbiome and may be potentially interesting substances for the development of drugs that control the innate colonic microbiome.

Brain health and anti-cancer benefits: 
And in the area of brain health, B-vitamins and shilajit were found to have therapeutic benefits to avoid brain impairment.

Other studies have promoted use for anti-cancer effects by inhibiting cell proliferation (cell proliferation is increased in tumors).

I must say, however, that many of the leading journals also have suggested that more studies need to done on shilajit to determine the overall benefits of use and its level of safety.

Notes on buying Shilajit

Make sure you’re actually buying real shilajit. I looked into the following companies as being most reputable:

Lotus Blooming Herbs imports their shilajit directly from the source, purified with filtered spring water, and then laboratory tested for safety. See the Resources section for links to their most recent lab tests and microbiology results.

PUR Black

Paradise Herbs

While the jury’s still out on whether or not shilajit is a miracle adaptogen, clearly my friend swears by it. She says it makes her feel like Gal Gardot in Wonder Woman, and if she’s any proof, it certainly seems to have some positive powers. Still, I’m going to continue to read up on shilajit while I begin experimenting with this adaptogen for use in workouts!