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The Ayurvedic Supplement Known as “Conqueror of Mountains”
Considered the panacea of all Ayurvedic remedies, shilajit is traditionally called “the destroyer of weakness and the conqueror of mountains.”
It’s a black exudate that has been held within rock for millions of years. This herb-mineral biomass is rich in fulvic acid, often used for treating allergies and cognitive decline; dibenzo-α-pyrones, a groups of metabolites; and various proteins that have proven to provide numerous health benefits.
But perhaps shilajit is best known and most researched for its ability to deliver oxygen to cells at high altitudes.
[H2] What is Shilajit?
Shilajit is found predominately in the Himalayan Mountains of India but also in central China, Japan, and parts of Scandinavia.
It was first discovered by the Sherpas of Nepal, who would nibble on this black powder while climbing and foraging at extremely high altitudes.
It’s said that they discovered shilajit by watching what monkeys ate at high altitudes.
Living at high altitudes presents numerous challenges for the human body, including a lack of oxygen available to tissues (hypoxia), altitude sickness, headaches, exhaustion, loss of appetite, pain, dementia, and depression.
Performing at high altitudes can create a level of tissue hypoxia in which cells are not getting enough oxygen. At 14,000 feet, for example, the air has 43 percent less oxygen than at sea level, which means the body has to work much harder to deliver oxygen to cells.
How Shilajit Can Help Us All Age More Gracefully
Understanding the slow and insidious effects of tissue hypoxia is important because it affects our ability to age gracefully. Aging is characterized by a decrease in the oxygen supply to the tissues.
Most of us don’t have to climb the Himalayas to suffer from shortness of breath, even hypoxia. The latter can happen slowly and insidiously over time at sea level, simply because we do not breathe correctly.
A lack of movement, along with excess time sitting in chairs, can cause your breathing to become more and more shallow over time. The problem with this is that when we breathe shallowly, we often breathe more rapidly to try to get the oxygen our blood and cells need. This is called over breathing.
Read more about over breathing in Are You an Over Breather? Balance CO2 + O2 for Mood Support.
Over breathing backfires on us, because we end up taking in more oxygen than we can use. In order to move oxygen from your blood into your cells, you need a balance of oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). When you over breathe, you let out too much CO2, your blood become saturated with O2, and you can’t transfer oxygen to your cells, risking tissue hypoxia.
Chronic levels of tissue hypoxia have been linked to genetic instability , as well as an increased risk of cardiovascular issues, metabolic issues, inflammation, and much more.
Enter shilajit again. The same benefits it has at altitude apply at sea level too for supporting the healthy delivery of oxygen to tissues and protecting the body against varying degrees of tissue hypoxia.
The Science Behind Shilajit for Tissue Hypoxia
The main active ingredient in shiliajit is fulvic acid, which has been studied for its ability to stimulate new blood formation, carry oxygen and nutrients into the cells, support mitochondrial energy production as ATP (adenosine triphosphate), help the body tolerate the cold, and prevent hypoxia. It has also been used for muscle recovery from exercise by supporting the health and strength of bones and soft tissues.
One of the main mechanisms responsible for the degenerative effects of hypoxia is oxidation, or free radical damage. As a stress fighting adaptogen, shilajit supports a healthy response to oxidation.
Recent studies evaluating all of shilajit’s constituents together deemed shilajit to be a powerful antioxidant phytocomplex with an ORAC index between 50 and 500 Trolox units/g of material, which is substantially higher than Noni and blueberries.
ORAC, short for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, is a test that measures the total antioxidant power of foods.
Pair Shiljit with Better Breathing to Combat Aging
Beyond taking shilajit, the most effective way to prevent tissue hypoxia and balance O2 and CO2 balance in your blood is breathe more slowly and deeply through your nose.
Nose breathing creates the time needed for CO2 to naturally build up in your blood. As CO2 levels rise, the bond between the oxygen and hemoglobin in the blood weakens, releasing oxygen into your cells and reversing tissue hypoxia.
My favorite nose breathing exercise is called Count Steps for each Breath. Go for a walk and breathe deeply through your nose while counting how many steps you take for each inhalation and exhalation. Try to work up to 10 steps for each. When you reach that goal, start extending the exhalation. So, for example, you would take 10 steps for the inhalation and 15-20 steps for the exhalation.
You can also try a pranayama technique called kumbhaka, which includes breath retention. While you hold your breath after the inhalation, CO2 levels slowly, gently, and comfortably.
Exercise, nasal breathing, yoga, pranayama and shilajit are all viable strategies to mitigate the major source of aging—poor delivery of oxygen to your cells.