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Herbology: Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula
Instructor: Alakananda Ma
April 30, 2010
A highly mineralized exudate that oozes from the rocks of mountainous regions in Asia in the heat of summer, shilajit is a curious resin that resembles asphalt and smells distinctly like cow urine. Loosely translated from Sanskrit as "conqueror of the mountains and destroyer of weakness", shilajit's lofty prabhav is that it will cure any cureable disease when combined with other appropriate medications. (Caraka Samhita)
A note on my research process
The naturally occurring and medicinal shilajit is sometimes referred to as asphaltum but is not to be confused with the asphaltum that is derived as a residue from the refining of petroleum or the natural tar-like substance that washes ashore from oil seepages beneath the Gulf of Mexico. It is also often called "bitumen" which refers to a fossilized, tar-like, black and oily substance which is a natural by-product of decomposed organic materials and ranges from viscous to hard and brittle. There are documented accounts of coastal aboriginal people using asphaltum and bitumen for the purpose of sealant, adhesive and paint and as early as the Neanderthals using it to assemble tools. It is now known that true shilajit has a certain set of characteristic constituents which account for its evidence based use as a timeless rasayana widely used in Ayurveda. That being said, an internet search for shilajit may also very well land one in a world of advertisements for "Indian Viagra" and "the fountain of youth". For the purposes of this article I will be referring to the humic substance comprised mainly of minerals known as Himalayan shilajit.
A fair amount of research has been done on shilajit in Eastern Universities. Unfortunately, I found that the majority of studies testing medicinal hypotheses of shilajit was done using animal subjects.
Botany and ethnobotany
Latin Name: Asphaltum, Asphaltum punjabianum
Common Names: mineral pitch, vegetable asphalt, bitumen , Jew's pitch,; Silajatu, mumiyo.; Other synonyms according to Bhavprakash are: adrija, saila niryasa, gaireya, asmaja, girija ans sailadhatuja; Other names appearing in formulation are: jatu, jatuna and adrija (The Ayurvedic Formulary of India Part I & II, 2003)
Plant Nomenclature: It appears that as it is not a single plant, there is no further taxonomic classification for shilajit. It is simply listed as a "drug of mineral origin" in the Ayurvedic Formulary. Research at Banaras Hindu University in India reveals via chemical analysis that shilajit is the result of the humification of resin and latex bearing plants. (Agrawal, 2003) including Euphorbia royleana and Trifolium repens.
Constituents: Resins, Benzoic acid, hippuric acid, fulvic acid; minerals: silica, iron, antimony, calcium, copper, lithium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, sodium, strontium, zinc (Pole, 2006)
The primary active ingredients in shilajit are fulvic acids, di-benzo alpha pyrones, humins, humic acids and trace minerals. Chemical analysis has shown that about 80% of the humus components are present in shilajit.
While there are other similar substances containing fulvic and humic acids, shilajit is differentiated in that it contains oxygenated di-benzo alpha pyrones. Shilajit collected from different areas does in fact exhibit differing chemical characteristics and bioactivities, however, the core composition includes low molecular weight chemical markers, aucuparins, di-benzo alpha pyrones and triterpenic acids. (Ghosal, 1990)
Ecologic Status: Shilajit is formed and found primarily in Asia in the Himalayan ranges in India, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Tibet, and part of Central Asia and Scandinavia It has been found all over the mountains of Europe as well. Millions of years ago, before the Himalayan mountains were formed, a fertile valley and lush foliage existed in their place. As the movement of the continents caused the valley to become the tallest mountain range in the world, the vegetation became trapped and preserved between the rock formations. Still today, the range continues to grow 1 cm. per year (U.S. Geological Survey) Due to extreme weather conditions and temperature variation, rock formations shift and in doing so expose precious shilajit. Because of its ancient nature, the vegetation was never exposed to any type of fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, or pollution. (Hartman)
Some say that shilajit's origin is not absolutely known. According to others, it was discovered by Himalayan villagers who observed large white monkeys migrating to the mountains in the warm summer months. The monkeys were seen chewing a semi-soft substance that flowed from between layers of rock. The villagers attributed the monkeys' great strength, longevity and wisdom to the substance. So, they began to consume it themselves and reported a broad spectrum of improvements in health. (Hartman)
While there are several areas from which the raw material is collected, it is thought that the highest levels of therapeutic ingredients come from the "sacred" mountains, specific areas in the Himalayas in Nepal at 10,000-12,000 feet above sea level. (Hartman)
It is not readily mentioned what the current supply situation for shilajit is like. It does come from an immense source-the Himalayan mountain range, but may be difficult to collect due to the foreboding nature of the source.
Part used: Purified Exudate. It is literally the oozing from the crevices of the rocks on exposure to the heating sun rays of summertime. The exudate that is shilajit appears to be the result of several factors: composted residue of certain resin or latex containing plants, the local environment, the temperature, humidity and the geological makeup of the rocks that it comes from. These varying factors account for different varieties and the difference in energetics and chemical constituents. According to Bhavprakash, there are four varieties: Sauvarna-gold Silajit (red color), Rajata-silver (white color), Tamra-copper (blue color), Ayasa-iron (blackish/brown color) and referred to as Lauha in other sources. Of these, the black variety appears to be the best for medicinal use, especially in cases where rasayana is indicated, although all types are applicable in all conditions. (CH chi, ch1, v 55-61)
Preparation: Shilajit is eaten by rats and monkeys in its natural state but it needs to be purified in order to be suitable for human consumption. Proper processing of raw shilajit is very important as it contains free radicals and possibly mycotoxins and fungal toxins. Processing removes free radicals, polymeric quinone radicals, toxins, mycotoxins, and other inactive ingredients. (Hartman)
The Ashtanga Hrdayam states that to prepare shilajit, it should first be washed in plain water and then dried. Then, it should be soaked in a decoction of other medicines (suitable to the disease to be treated) and then stored in an iron vessel. The ratio is 1:8 (shilajit:decoction) and boiled down to 1/8. Then it is filtered and dried. This process is repeated seven times. (AH Ut 39, 134-135 ) It is commonly boiled in a decoction of triphala.
According to the Sarngadhara Samhita, crude shilajit is powdered and then macerated in hot water (or a decoction of Triphala) for several hours. The maceration is then filtered and the liquid collected in an earthen plate and exposed to the sun until a scum
begins to form on the surface. This scum is then skimmed off and dried in the sun until it forms a hard mass. At this point it is considered to be pure and can be processed further or "impregnated". Purified shilajit may be macerated in a decoction of different dravyas chosen specifically for their medicinal actions in a particular disease. Caraka reads that the shilajit should be soaked in this decoction and dried in the sun each day for 7 days, then combined with lauha bhasma (purified iron) and consumed with cow's milk. (Caldecott, 2006)
Ethnobotany: According to lore shilajit is "amrta" or nectar from God given to mankind in order to "live long and happy life". It is one of the most important medicines used for centuries and still today in Ayurvedic medicine. There is evidence of shilajit in the Indus civilization. (Agrawal, 2003) Traditionally it is known as rasayana and used as a power increasing tonic, age defying and aphrodisiac. In Chinese medicine it was used as a kidney/adrenal tonic.
"Mumiyo" is a similar substance (if not the same) collected by the native peoples of the northern regions of Russia and Afghanistan (Tillotson, 2001) and used by the people of the former Soviet union. The name is often used interchangeably with shilajit and bears similar health claims.
Ayurvedic Herbal Energetics
As mentioned before, there are different varieties of shilajit based on the factors involved which comprise its makeup. The following information is for the black/brown form coming from iron and most commonly used in a healing context: (Pole, 2006)
Rasa: Katu (pungent), Tikta (bitter), Lavana (salty), Ksaya (astringent)
Virya: ushna (heating)
Vipaka: katu (pungent)
Guna: ruksha (dry), guru (heavy)
Shilajit's Dravya karma or ayurvedic plant action is chedana which is the class of drugs that actively draws out toxins by scratching them from the tissues.
Karmas: rasayana (rejuvenative) for kapha & mutra, vajikarana (enhances sexual potency), medhya (enhances intellect), mutrakrcchraghna (alleviates painful urination), apasmaromadaghna (alleviates disorders of the nervous system), medohara (reduces fat tissue), sandhaniya helas broken bones, chedhana (scratches accumulated toxins from tissues and channels), tridosaghna (alleviates all three doshas)
Dhatus: All dhatus
Srotansi: mutra (urinary), majja (nervous), sukra/artava (reproductive)
Shilajit is usually thought of as having ushna virya, but according to Caraka it is either moderate (neither too cold nor too hot) or shita (cooling) virya. (chi, ch 1, v48-50, 55-61) Caraka also states that it is slightly amla (sour) and ksaya in rasa. The varieties are as such, according to Carak:
From gold: madhura (sweet) and slightly ksaya, shita, katu; V/P
From silver: katu, shita, madhura; K/P
From copper: tikta and katu, ushna, katu; K
From iron: tikta, lavana, shita, katu; tridosha
Shilajit used as medicine
The aforementioned fulvic acid constituent of shilajit acts as a carrier for di-benzo alpha pyrones, trace minerals and other nutrients into the deep tissues. They are small lattice shaped molecules absorbed by plants that need the trace minerals and other nutrients for their growth. When we eat the plants (or the animals that ate the plants) we ingest fulvic acids. However, currently, our depleted soil is lacking the beneficial microbes and plant material to produce fulvic acids and humus. Fulvic acid removes deep-seated toxins from the body and trace minerals are needed as cofactors for enzymes, play important roles in turning food into energy, maintain the electrical balance in bodily fluids, carry oxygen in the body, are part of blood and bone, allow nerves to transmit messages and more. (Hartman) (Harsahay Meena, 2010)
Di-benzo alpha pyrones are able to pass the blood brain barrier (BBB) and act as a powerful antioxidant protecting the brain and nerve tissue from free radical damage. It also inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, thereby increasing acetylcholine. Low levels of acetylcholine are associated with alzheimers, poor memory and concentration. (Hartman)
Panacea: A cure-all which boosts the curative effect of other herbs. It acts as a catalyst by promoting the action of other tonic agents. (Lad, 2001)
To name a few, claims are made that shilajit is helpful in: asthma and allergic conditions, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, joint disorders, antioxidant, anemia, asthma, cystitis, diabetes, dysuria, edema, epilepsy, gall stones, hemorrhoids, insanity, jaundice, kidney, obesity, sexual debility, skin diseases, menstrual disorders, and parasites.
Shilajit and specific conditions and systems
The following tends to be the agreed upon list for which there is more substantial evidence.
Urinary: Shilajit's action on mutra vahasrotas helps to clear stagnated vata and kapha and redirects the flow of apana vayu through the pelvic area. By this token, it can help clear stagnation of kapha and vata in prostatitis. (Pole, 2006). It is useful in treating painful urination, cystitis, stones, incontinence and glycosuria. It also acts as a diuretic by increasing urination, promoting kidney and bladder activity, reduces and removes toxins and decreases water retention of all tissues. (Tirtha, 1998-2007)
Diabetes: "For these (diseases), treatments which reduce medas (fat), anila (vata) and slesman (kapha) are desireable (required)". (AH Su 14, 21-24) Shilajit's affinity for both the fat tissue and the water channel make it useful in treating diabetes. It enhances peripheral glucose uptake so is used in hyperglycemia and regulating blood sugar levels. It also scrapes fat making it helpful in metabolic syndrome (excess weight, high cholesterol, low thyroid and diabetes). (Pole, 2006) According to Susruta Samhita (15,32-40) obesity can be cured by taking enemas of drugs with liquefying properties which contain minerals like Silajatu, cow's urine, the three myrobalans, honey, barley etc.
A study done with 61 diabetic subjects who were administered 1000mg of shilajit, twice daily for 30 days demonstrated antioxidant activity. As an adaptogen, it resulted in the reduction of lipids per oxidation and may be of benefit as a supplement in the prevention of diabetes complications. (Nidhi Saxena, 2003) Rat studies have also demonstrated that shilajit produces a significant reduction in blood glucose levels as well as improving lipid profile. (N. A. Trivedi, 2004)
Reproductive: Strengthens the entire reproductive system and is tonic (aphrodisiac) for the sex organs. It treats deficiency and weakness due to high vata in the female reproductive system with symptoms of weakness, infertility, dysmenorrhea and PMS, as well. (Pole, 2006) Its spermatogenic effects are evidenced in a study of male oligospermic patients. (Biswas TK, 2010) In rat studies testing shilajit as a fertility agent, it was estimated that it had both a spermiogenic and ovogenic effect in mature rats. (Jeong-Sook Park, 2006)
Mental health: Nootropic and anxiolytic activity. Investigated for its effect on memory, learning and anxiety and reported that shilajit enhanced the acquisition of learning and memory in aged rats while exhibiting a marked reduction in anxiety levels. (AK Jaiswal, 1992) It may also be used in treating epilepsy.
Bones: Promotes the movement of minerals, especially calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium into muscle tissue and bone. Shilajit is naturally high in iron and other minerals making it useful in osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and spondylosis. It is building to both rakta and asthi dhatus and therefore used to heal broken bones. (Pole, 2006)
Lekhaniya: By virtue of its scraping quality shilajit may remove benign tumors(lipoma, osteoma, uterine fibroid, goiter) and detoxify breast tissue (sthanya shodan).
Immunomodulator : Shilajit has been found to be effective in treating allergies and boosting immunity. Di-benzo-alpha-pyrones and triterpenic acid (humic and fulvic acids) affect the endocrine, autonomic, and central nervous systems, "bringing about an immunomodulating result by increasing the activity of macrophages". (Ghosal S. , 1990) Another study on rats showed that white cell activity rose in accordance with dosage and time after exposure. (Ghosal S. e.)
Tissue Recovery: Shilajit has been used in wound healing, specifically peptic ulcer, and other inflammation and shown to help in muscle recovery after exercise. Shilajit increased the carbohydrate/protein ratio and decreased gastric ulcer index, indicating an increased mucus barrier. (Goel RK, 1990) Fulvic acid and 4/-methoxy 6-carbomethoxy bi phenyl, active constituents in shilajit are found to have ulcer protective effect. (Ghosal S, 1988)
Longevity: The fountain of youth; some say that the name itself suggests that one can stave off the aging process much as the rock does. Shilajit exhibits antioxidative properties (Acharya, 1988) and is said to cure diseases of aging. It is an important rejuvenative and tonic, especially for vata and kapha. (Lad, 2001)
Administration: Shilajit is most often given as pills (vati) or powder.
· A paste may be dissolved in boiled, hot water or milk and taken 2X daily.
· 2-3 pills 3X daily or 500 mg-5g/day (Pole, 2006)
· Caraka Samhita recommends a minimum dose of 12g/day for two months to attain maximum benefit.
Special classical formulations Shilajit may also be used in the following important formulations:
· Chandraprabha which acts as tonic, aphrodisiac and rejuvenator is said to cure all diseases; especially all twenty kinds of prameha (diabetes), dysuria, urine retention, renal calculi, constipation, anaha (enlargement of the abdomen), colic, tumors and cancers of the penis, hernia, katishula (pain in the waist), dyspnea and cough, psoriasis, scrotum enlargement, anemia, jaundice, chlorosis, skin diseases, piles, itching, splenomegaly, anal fistula, disease of teeth, eye disease, menstrual pain, semen disorders, mandagni, anorexia and other diseases of vata, pitta and kapha. (Sarngadhara Samhita)
· Silajatuvataka (Shilajit pills) made with decoction of indrayava, triphala, neem, patola, mustha, and sunthi, plus sugar, vamsalochana, pippali, amalaki, karkatashringi, kantakari, trigandha (tvak, ela and patra), are powdered together and mixed with honey and made into 10 gram doses are again referred to as panacea according to the Carak Samhita. (Chi, ch XVI, v )
· Arogya vardhini
· Chyavanprash: a rejuvenative medicated jelly (avaleha) prepared with sugar or honey
Other Formulations and combinations: (Pole, 2006)
· Gokshura & guggulu for stones & prostatitis
· Punarnava & guggulu for edema & fluid retention
· Gurmar, karavella, neem, turmeric, black pepper, for hyperglycemia
· Ashwagandha & gokshura for male reproductive problems
· Shatavari & licorice for female reproductive problems
· Amalaki, ginger, & shatavari for anemia
Contraindications: shilajit should not be used in instances of high uric acid levels or with heavy and vidahi (hot-natured) foods. (Carak Samhita)
Although on the internet today one will find numerous wild claims that shilajit will cure nearly anything that ails you, recent research has proven that there is, in fact, some scientific basis for its fame as a wonder drug. This strange and mystical resin has been used by humans for thousands of years in a medicinal context with positive result and those who support the "evidence based medicine" approach of Ayurveda can appreciate that there is a growing body of work pertaining to the exploration of why the ancient texts say it works. Shilajit is truly another gift of nature and should be respected and applied as such.
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 A Sanskrit word referring to a rejuvenative tonic. Much more than a bulk promoter, a rasayana increases the quality of the body, rebuilds the body/mind, prevents decay, postpones aging and may even help to reverse the aging process. (Lad, 2001)
 According to soil science, humus is defined as any organic matter that has been broken down to the point of stability, and theoretically, if conditions do not change, remains stable, unchanged for centuries, if not millennia. It is completely amorphous and no longer has any cellular structural characteristic of plants, animals or micro-organisms. It forms the organic portion of soil. (Merriam-Webster)(Whitehead & Tinsley, 2006)
 A substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning. (Merriam-Webster Online)
 A substance that affects the functioning of the immune system. (Merriam-Webster Online)