Shilajit, Part II

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Posted to Subscribers on 19 June 2013
 
 
 

 

See Part I

Dear Subscribers,

I would like to continue the shilajit saga and address some of the many theories as to what it is.

One theory is that continents are floating on the molten inner core of the Earth. The lighter land masses are "crusts" riding on massive tectonic plates. Heat from inside the Earth builds up and cracks the crusts so that pieces eventually break off and float. India is believed to have once been an island to the north of Australia. It drifted north and collided with Asia. The Himalayas arose where the land masses butted up against each other and the evidence for this in found in sea shells and tropical vegetation in high elevations in the Himalayas. Over millions of years, some of the vegetation as well as skeletons of animals fossilized and some became a sort of resinous substance that is a rich mixture of minerals and botanical substances. When the snows melt, there is runoff from higher elevations and the rocks that have organic material in their crevices become exposed. As the sun heats the rocks, the sticky substance liquefies and is collected by local people who often climb to elevations 5000 meters above sea level to scrape up the rock exudate. In this form, the material is gooey and sometimes has some particulate matter such as pebbles.

This raw material is water soluble so the next step is to process the shilajit by "washing" which basically involves allowing sediment to form and then filtering the remaining liquid. At this stage, the shilajit is still considered to be raw because it has not been subjected to heat. However, this material is significantly more processed than what the monkeys ate that inspired humans to harvest the exudate that the monkeys were ingesting. As we know, animals that are lacking nutrients will travel great distances to mineral licks where their deficiency conditions can be corrected. Noting the animal behavior, humans might have learned from them how to meet their own nutritional needs.

This raw shilajit is what is sold in Russia and many countries that were once part of the Soviet Union such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the Altai Mountains bordering Kazakhstan. This material is sold as mumijo (spelled many different ways) and is rarely, perhaps never, processed according to Ayurvedic methods. The claim is often made that it is superior to Indian shilajit, but one should always be cautious of what is written by professional advertising agents and their clients. However, the truth is, this substance has been extensively researched in Russia since about 1950. It has been found to speed the healing of fractures and there is quite a bit of evidence that it is an adaptogen that improves endurance and athletic performance.

However, every product is different. Some products are almost purely botanical and some are 100% inorganic. Shilajit can be found in many places and a sample from one rock might be quite different from that of another rock ten feet away. This said, the white shilajit is 100% inorganic but still water soluble. The black shilajit is usually more botanical. The English word for this is usually asphaltum or mineral bitumen but these words are misleading because there is abundant evidence that the profile of some shilajits matches plants perfectly.

The Ayurvedic shilajit is processed, not sometimes but always. It undergoes an alchemical purification process that is similar to that used for highly toxic substances that are rendered beneficial after processing, substances such as mercury and arsenic. In my opinion, this processing is important because rocks do contain trace amounts of countless minerals, including ones that are not necessarily desirable.

In general, it is claimed that shilajit contains 85 minerals. This figure is found all over the internet as well as in professional publications, but it is almost meaningless since some shilajit may have 35 minerals and some may have 85. Much depends on where the shilajit was sourced as well as many factors such as the materials used in purifying the shilajit.

Some of you probably do not want to know how the purification process is performed. Traditionally, it usually involved numerous steps. This begins with what is called the bhavana treatment. A liquid is used to begin the purification. This could be water or the juice of a plant, but it could be milk, or ghee. This is followed by use of triphala kwath, a mixture of three fruits in a liquid form. Then, there is often a further purification using bhringaraj swaras or juice. These are not adulterations but required steps in the traditional purification of shilajit.

In many posts, I have shared with you my fascination with how a toxic substance can be rendered non-toxic or even medically beneficial through alchemical processes. These purificatory steps may be repeated seven, thirty, or a thousand times, sometimes for years. Sometimes, the processes are very complicated and labor intensive. Homeopaths might appreciate that the constant exposure to grinding and filtering and heating has to result in subtle changes in the vibrations of the original substances. The result however is not a homeopathic substance but rather an alchemically purified substance. In Ayurvedic alchemy, a metal such as mercury can become stable and healing, not just neutral. Obviously, I had to prove this to myself by taking such substances and checking my blood both before and after. The idea that a substance that is predominantly mineral in nature can also be an antioxidant speaks to the tremendous healing potential of a purified metal. This said, it ought to be assumed that most commercially available preparations were not probably exposed to the proper purification procedures so it cannot be assumed that traces of arsenic and mercury are benign. They might be but none of the studies cited in various publications refer to testing of the purification method itself.

The question then arises as to trust in the product and the reasons for using shilajit. My personal belief, and it is only a belief, is that we are all mineral deficient. There are countless reasons for this, but a few examples will help us to understand the situation better. First, the use of chemicals in agriculture has resulted in immense depletion of minerals because the minerals are used to buffer the acidity, priority being given to the soil rather than the plants. Second, because of damage to the soil, such as occurs when plowing after harvest and letting a field dry out over the dormant season, soil does not hold moisture. Much more water is therefore required by the plants and this water washes some of the minerals down into deeper levels of the soil so the plants themselves cannot assimilate the range of minerals that they would if the agricultural methods were different.

When my studies of health first began, a few nutrients were considered as essential. For instance, we have essential fatty acids and vitamins and amino acids, but there are also essential minerals. We know that calcium, for instance, is necessary for teeth and bones (and much more) and that iron is used in much smaller amounts to make good hemoglobin. Iodine is needed by the thyroid, but specialists are not always in agreement as to which minerals are essential. The short list probably has 20 plus minerals, all of low atomic weight. So, even a shilajit with 35 minerals is a fairly rich source of what is often missing from our diets. However, one with 85 minerals could make an immense difference in how we function.

In classic Ayurvedic texts, the length of life was sometimes correlated to the consumption of shilajit, suggesting that with mega doses, one could live a thousand years. We probably need to write off some of these claims as poetic inferences to a potential most of us will not manifest, but if degeneration can be avoided through supplementation, we have at our doorstep something to consider.

Since shilajit is probably formed over eons of time, it is not really a renewable substance. This means that demand is high and so are the prices. Therefore, a company might be tempted to adulterate a product to make more money. There is a lot of clamor on the web about "best quality" and so on and so forth, but how do we know which is best? I think it comes by trial and error. If you go through one bottle or jar of shilajit without noticing any improvement, I would definitely change brands. However, I can make this just a tiny bit easier by suggesting that the brands with high fulvic acid content are not similar to those with lower fulvic acid content. In the natural state, the amount would be important but not "high" so those that are high have added fulvic acid to whatever the base was.

Others have added ashwagandha to the shilajit, largely to capitalize on the fame of the two substances for male potency and stamina. In my opinion, this is not an adulteration but a modification, one that probably brings the price down considerably but may fail to provide an optimum dose of shilajit. Other products could be completely fake, but there is no easy way to determine this.

In any event, I am posting this in response to many emails as well as correspondence with companies providing shilajit. Given that I have been involved in the world of Ayurveda for a long time, I want to go on record saying that it is my professional opinion that purification of shilajit does not lessen its effectiveness but rather strengthens the safety of its use. For product comparisons, we simply have to wait until more studies have been done, but I would not hold my breath too long since very few studies clearly state the source of the shilajit, its method of preparation, or its therapeutic value for humans. For many, many years, I have considered shilajit as something just a bit more elegant than a trace mineral supplement. It is more subtle because of its synergy with herbs and has broad use as an adjunctive treatment in any protocol.

Many blessings,

Ingrid

Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2013

 

Special Thanks:

I would like to acknowledge the generous sharing of information on purification of shilajit offered by Ram Subedi of Gorkha Exim (P) Limited, Kathmandu, Nepal.

 

 

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