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Shilajit: South Asian ‘superfood’ reportedly calms nerves, raises questions

The Himalayas mountains are home to shilajit, a sticky tar-like substance that is gaining popularity in the west for its supposed health benefits, showing up at the Hollywood Farmers Market. (Credit: Thinkstock)Depending on who you ask, Shilajit is either a miraculous gift from nature…or a useless and even potentially dangerous substance.

The pricey, tar-like substance is found primarily in the Himalayas and has been used throughout India, China and Tibet for centuries. Shilajit is made up of ancient plant materials has been used in Ayurvedic medicine and touted for its supposed health benefits, owing to its breakdown of minerals and phytonutrients, including anti-oxidant fulvic acid.

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The South Asian treasure (and we mean treasure -- a mere 10 grams will cost you $80) is becoming something of a trendy health item in the west. Shilajit has been making recent appearances at the Hollywood Farmers Market -- celebs like Big Love's Branka Katic, who say it "brightens her view of the world," claims that shilajit gives her increased energy.

Other purported benefits of shilajit include pain relief, increased memory, detoxification, sexual performance enhancement and alleviation of the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The bitter-tasting substance can be ingested in capsule form or a small amount of it can be dissolved in a warm liquid, such as water or milk, and administered as a drink.

Shilajit draws in the curious and the loyal alike. It's no wonder, considering some of the promises that this "miracle" herb has on offer, including increases in sexual potency.

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But few studies have been able to support the claims of the aphrodisiac benefits of shilajit, according to author and nutrition expert, Dr. Ray Sahelian.

In fact, aside from some positive memory testing on mice, few studies have been able to support any of the claims made by shilajit boosters. That said, Dr. Mary L. Hardy, medical director of the UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, tells the Los Angeles Times, "Just because there is limited clinical evidence of benefits in humans doesn't mean it wouldn't be valid, just that no one has done the work yet."

The substance has gotten a bit of a bad rap in Canada. In 2005, shilajit capsules manufactured by Dabur India Ltd. were found to be contaminated with heavy metals and were subsequently banned.

Shilajit has also been known to cause potentially harmful side-effects, such as low blood pressure and fainting.

Be sure to do your research before hopping onto the bandwagon of any trendy new miracle cure and always be sure to consult with your doctor.

Check out the video below that tells you what foods to eat to lower your cholesterol.

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