There are numerous health-food outlets online and off-line selling “Shilajit” in a powdered form. Many health and super food gurus came out with videos promoting powdered Shilajit and Salajeet. Retail prices range from $20 for couple ounces of “Shilajit extract” to $200 per kilo of such extraction. On the wholesale side powdered extracts so for the price of $40 to $350 per kilo. Everything is surrounded by claims of “wild crafted”, “natural”, “no fertilizers”, “high fulvic acid content”, “over 80 minerals”, etc. The overwhelming majority of these companies DO NOT PROVIDE: certificates of analysis (COAs), scientific references or even basic explanation, which would allow determining authenticity and quality of the product.
Genuine mineral pitch (a.k.a. Shilajit, Mumie, Salajeet) the way it was described in Charaka Samhita was always a resin. The same substance known as Mumie (Shilajit) used in the North by Siberian natives was always in the resin form as well. Traditionally, humans always observed animal behavior in nature prior to collecting and purifying mineral pitch into a consumption ready resin. Powdered Shilajit or Mumie never existed until the advent of modern day chemistry and relatively inexpensive energy sources.
The question naturally coming up is: what are all those powdered Shilajit products that most companies are selling? The answer is fairly simple. Those are soil extractions. Sometimes soil extractions with some Shilajit added to them. What is complex is the process of how they are made, how they get into the country and end up on the market and in health drinks of consumers throughout the nation.
Part two. Making counterfeits.
Most powdered imitations are made from soils. Seven to five parts of soil will usually produce about one part of fake Shilajit. Because mineral pitch specific authenticity tests are not applied to the final product, the manufacturer can claim it to be “high fulvic acid content” shilajit. Now let’s look into details of the fabrication manufacturing process.
First the soil is mixed with water and large insoluble particles are removed.
Second an extractant is added to the mixture. The extractant (solvent) could be water, alcohol, acids or any appropriate chemical, which will not render the final product to be harmful. The solution will be filtered and fractioned multiple times chemically or physically.
Third, the extracted solution will be processed through absorbents, which will allow for concentration of fulvic acids. Further the liquid will be removed using simple heat. The product will be micronized, packaged and sold in bulk. An optional step is adding “marker compounds” or excipients to the mix.
The resulting product will be sold as “Shilajit” powders. It would be unfair to ethical manufacturers employing chemical science to process authentic mineral pitch. Indeed powders can be made from genuine Shilajit. Nevertheless, in our opinion the market share of such companies represents less than 0.5% of the overall powdered “Shilajit” products. Unfortunately, most powders are imitation products and have little in common with genuine mineral pitch.
The fabrication process can differ. It can range from very simple where soils are extracted with water with different pH all the way to multistage chemical processes. The resulting product will still always be a soil extraction, which is not the genuine manual pitch (known as Shilajit, Mumie, Salajeet), which was used in multiple studies demonstrating health benefits of the substance.
Part three. Red flags to watch out for.
There are multiple questions, which will allow the consumer of powdered Shilajit establish if they are consuming a low quality imitation product. In most cases powders will be an imitation and it is important to understand how to spot them. We’ll explain further in the text why each question is relevant.
Question 1. Is the powder sold in bulk as “Shilajit”?
If the answer is YES, it is a first red flag.
Reputable manufacturers do not sell their products as bulk powders. Genuine shilajit regardless of its origin is expensive, and even if powdered will generally sell encapsulated or in tablets as a brand-name ingredient. Seeing a “bargain” on several ounces or a pound of Shilajit is simply too good to be true.
The reason behind ethical manufacturers not selling their products under generic names or in bulk as powders is due high cost of the product and pressure from imitation Shilajit. Exactly because generic imitation products sell in bulk, serious companies always sell under their own bands or only through reputable brands.
Question 2. Is the powder claiming to be Himalayan?
If the answer is YES, it is a second largest red flag.
The “Himalayan” claim is highly manipulative. It is put out to confuse the customers into thinking that the powder is coming from the genuine source. In reality such powder can come from anywhere in India or Pakistan. Unless such manufacturer disclosed FDA prior notices, certificates of analysis with authenticity data and customs documents the “Himalayan origin” claims I usually bogus.
In reality Himalayas are so exhausted from hundreds of years of high demand for Shilajit that the richest sources of mineral pitch come from outside of India and Pakistan. Nowadays genuine Himalayan mineral pitch is one of the most expensive on the market and it usually retails for $50-$150 per 10 grams, which makes it $5000-$15000 per kilo.
Question 3. What is the manufacturer’s reason for converting the shilajit to powder, rather than supplying it in its natural resin form?
It is absolutely counterproductive from manufacturing and demonstrating authenticity point of view to sell mineral pitch as powder. If the manufacturer was using genuine and high-quality resin to start with is economically not feasible to manufacture powders and wholesale them at prices which are lower then prices of resin.
Question 4. Does the manufacturer feature comprehensive certificate of analysis?
If the answer is NO, if the certificate is missing data or laboratories are not identified. Most likely you are dealing with a counterfeit or an illegal product.
Any reputable manufacturer will always disclose a comprehensive certificate of analysis. Such certificate of analysis will feature not only the safety data (heavy metals content and microbiology), but also authenticity data (pH, ashless humic acids or as an alternative DBPs, glycine content, ashes not soluble in hydrochloric acid)
The manufacturer will also always disclose a third party laboratory where the tests were performed. This is done to ensure that an independent third party can verify quality and safety of the product.
Question 5. Does the manufacturer/merchant claims an abnormally high concentration of humic or fulvic acids, or other ingredients?
If the answer is YES and anything over 8% is claimed, most likely you are dealing with an imitation product made out of soil.
Abnormally high concentrations of either humic or fulvic acids is a major red flag. The valuable ones are considered to be the ashless humic acids, they are the ones considered to be carriers of DBPs. Usually if the powder is abnormally high in fulvic acid this means that the product is a higher end soil extraction or was cut with fulvic acid.
Question 6. Does the manufacturer/merchant feature nonstandard tests while establishing authenticity?
If the answer is YES you are dealing with an imitation product made out of soil.
Sometimes manufacturers will claim high levels of humic/fulvic acids established through either gravimetric or Verploegh and Brandvold are not acceptable to establish authenticity of genuine manual pitch resin. Gravimetric analysis is more suited to analyze individual elements and not substances as complex as humic acids. The Verploegh and Brandvold method was originally developed to test soil. Neither test were ever meant for Shilajit, Moomiyo or any form of mineral pitch.
Question 7. Is the products content of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury within the acceptable range (per daily dose) specified by the FDA and/or EPA? That is, if a single dose of .5 to 1 gram were dissolved in pure water, and the resulting mixture tested for levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, would the amounts of these elements be less than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) or MCLG (maximum contaminant level goal) under EPA standards?
Any food product will contain some level of heavy metals. It is important that these levels do not exceed the government mandated safety levels. Sometimes manufactures/merchants well “cheat” and claim that there are no heavy metals at all found in their powder. In such case the certificate of analysis is guaranteed to be a forgery. Most natural substances, even the safe ones always contain trace amounts of heavy metals. A company claiming absolutely no heavy metals either had malfunctioning equipment or simply forged the certificate of analysis.
Question 8. Does the company disclose the labs, which performed tests in the Certificate of Analysis?
If the answer is NO it is likely that you are dealing with a forged COA.
It is important for companies to fully disclose the labs, which performed tests on powdered Shilajit. It is true that most labs in the United States have not developed the culture of testing manual pitch products. Nevertheless, safety should always be tested in the US. The company should always feature lab analysis for microbiology and heavy metals performed by a domestic lab, which could be reached for verification of the COA.