Shilajit has long been used in the traditional Indian practice of ayurvedic medicine to treat maladies including diabetes, worm infestations, jaundice and obesity. Animal studies conducted since the late 1980s have shown the compound to have some beneficial effects with few side effects, but shilajit should still be used with caution because it lacks clinical evidence for human use. Also, products containing shilajit have been found to contain harmful levels of heavy metals.
What It Is
Shilajit is a mineral-rich organic compound that seeps out from between rocks high in the mountains of northeastern India and other parts of Asia during the summer. Also known as asphalt and mineral pitch, the compound comes in shades of copper, gold, silver and black, with the black form being the one most often used in ayurvedic preparations. Much of shilajit consists of decayed plant material.
In his 2006 book "Shilajit in Perspective," Shibnath Ghosal lists the biologically active components of shilajit as albuminoids, benzoic acid and salts, calcium, copper, fatty acids, glycine, hippuric acid and salts, hydroxyproline, iron, potassium, proline, silicon, sodium, threonine and tin. Other assays cited by Robert Talbert in "Shilajit: A Materia Medica Monograph" identified 4′-methoxy 6-carbomethoxy biphenyl, dibenzo-alpha-pyrones fulvic acid, phenolic lipids and tirucallane triterpenes as components of shilajit.
Promoted widely online as an anti-aging compound and as a cure for sexual dysfunction, modern uses of shilajit documented by Talbert include the treatment of anemia, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, edema, epilepsy, gallstones, hemorrhoids, infertility, kidney stones, menstrual disorders, skin diseases (including leprosy) and thyroid disorders.
Evidence for Effectiveness
Animal studies reviewed by Ghosal and Talbert have shown that shilajit has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties. The compound also appears to help treat ulcers. Other studies exploring the effectiveness of shilajit for treating bronchitis, heart failure and high blood pressure showed the compound to have no effect on those conditions.
Shilajit increases the production of uric acid in the body and can thus worsen gout. Other than that, doses as high as 3g per kilogram in a single day produced no adverse effects in mice, according to a study cited by Talbert.
Talbert noted in the conclusion of his monograph that "examining the list of modern indications for shilajit, one can hardly believe that it could have such a wide and varied effect on the human body." He emphasizes that no published clinical trials of shilajit have involved human subjects, so the compound's effect on people's health has not been established. Another concern is that most shilajit products are imported from India and not assessed for content or purity before being sold. This issue was highlighted in 2005, when Health Canada blocked the sale of shilajit capsules produced by Dabur India Ltd. because the capsules contained unhealthy amounts of heavy metals. In a July 20, 2005, press release, the Canadian health agency warned consumers that arsenic, lead and mercury are often mixed with herbs in ayurvedic medicines because the heavy metals are believed to have therapeutic properties.
Last, shilajit has a high concentration of iron. Taking shilajit with other supplements such as multivitamins that contain iron could lead to an overdose, whose symptoms include bloody vomit, diarrhea, loss of consciousness, loss of skin color and shock.
Ed Lamb is a freelance writer and editor in Virginia Beach, Va. He has written widely in the fields of health policy, pharmacy practice and pharmaceuticals. He has also developed expertise in the areas of employment law, human resources and product packaging and industrial food production.