QUESTION: “Is shilajit [pronounced “SHUL-ah-jeet”] a legit game-changer when it comes to health? I see all these advertisements talking about the benefits of it and wanted your take on it.”
DR. NEAL: Thank you for your question. I appreciate that you wanting to double-check those claims swirling around shilajit supplementation.
As usual, let’s start at the beginning by talking about what this substance actually is.
What is Shilajit and where does it come from?
Shilajit is harvested from mountainous regions across the world. Thousands of years ago, it was living plant-based material. But, now, it’s decomposed and has become a black or dark brown tarlike substance.
This type of decomposed plant-based material is sometimes called “mineral pitch.” It is believed that this material has medicinal properties.
On a molecular level, when we look at what shilajit is made of, we see that it’s made mostly of a substance called fulvic acid. Shilajit also contains some minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Now, fulvic acid specifically is to have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. So some supplement manufacturers have begun selling shilajit as a way to promote a longer life, improve skin disorders, relieve anxiety, improve digestion, help with bronchitis, and even increase testosterone levels.
But are these claims real?
Shilajit Health Claims
It turns out that most of the health benefits seen with this supplementation were performed in animals.
Human studies have been conducted too, but spoiler alert, they aren’t as promising. When studies do seem to show a benefit to shilajit supplementation, we often find that they studied only a handful of people or the study was sponsored by a supplement manufacturer. When a study is trying to determine whether a supplement may have health benefits, and it was funded by the same supplement manufacturer trying to sell that product, that means there’s probably a conflict of interest there.
But let’s say we ignore the health claims. Shilajit contains some important minerals. At the very least, if someone were to supplement with it, at a very minimum, they would get some calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
It turns out that while shilajit contains a small quantity of these minerals, it doesn’t come close to recommended daily intakes.
Is Shilajit Safe?
Probably most importantly, there have been some quality and safety concerns about these products being sold.
Some manufacturers have been selling raw versions. These should be avoided.
When we think back to where this substance comes from – the mountains – we know that soil and rocks can contain substances that are toxic to humans… like lead, cadmium, and arsenic. If these compounds are not removed, like what we might find in raw shilajit, then we may be exposing ourselves to these harmful elements.
One study found that raw shilajit contained harmful species of fungi. An analysis of 8 popular shilajit supplement brands found that some contained quantities of lead that exceeded established limits. ConsumerLab.com also warns that some products may be marketed as shilajit, but contain none of the substance whatsoever.
So, what should we do?
As with any health behavior, whether it’s participating in high intensity interval training or starting a new supplement or medication, we have to weigh the pros and cons.
What are the potential risks and benefits to starting this new behavior? If the benefits outweigh the risks, then it may be worth trying.
In this case, I can’t say with any confidence that supplementing with shilajit will provide more benefits than risks. We simply need more and better quality studies to know whether any of the health claims are real.
So, my advice would be to ignore all of those advertisements claiming shilajit is a health game-changer for now.