People in the West are having fewer and fewer children. The replacement rate required to maintain a societies population size is 2.1 children per woman. It’s obviously difficult to birth 0.1 of a child so the burden is shared across the population. Countries with a lower rate than this will have an older demographic, and a decrease in population size over time.
You might think that this is a good thing? Well, it isn’t.
An aging population brings with it a greater need for health and social care, an increased demand for state pensions and welfare, which are ultimately paid for by the working population aged between 15-64.
Fertility is increasingly becoming an issue for men and women, specifically in the West. There are many reasons for the increase in infertility. Chief among those is, to speak generally, chemicals in our environment, and unhealthy lifestyle choices. For example, the combined oral contraceptive pill (“the pill”), recreational drug use, and overeating processed junk food that contribute toward obesity.
I can almost hear your desperate pleas from here. “Please! Tell me how I can do my part to ensure the future of the West?”
Well, since you asked so nicely… ladies first.
1. Free-Radicals and Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance between pro-oxidants and antioxidants. This ratio can be altered by increased levels of reactive oxygen species and/or reactive nitrogen species, or a decrease in antioxidant defence mechanisms.
A certain amount of reactive oxygen species is needed for the progression of normal cell functions, provided that every molecule returns to its reduced state. Excessive reactive oxygen species production may overpower our body’s natural antioxidant defence system, creating an environment unsuitable for normal female physiological reactions.
This, in turn, can lead to several reproductive diseases including endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and 'unexplained infertility'.
Further to this, certain heavy metals (where have we heard this before?) contribute significantly to the production of reactive oxygen species meaning further oxidative stress, and increased chances of developing reproductive diseases. Most reactive oxygen species are produced when electrons ‘leak’ from the electron transport chain, and the reason they are so reactive (destructive) is because the outer ring of electrons is not ‘full’.
For a visual representation of this, this YouTube video shows what happens when sodium metal (1 electron in its outer ring) is dropped into water…
Molecules are always looking for a full outer ring of electrons (8) which means they are stable. Free radicals are molecules with 1 or 7 electrons, and they will react with almost anything, which is what causes oxidative stress.
Shilajit can act as an electron donor or acceptor, nullifying the free radicals, which is what makes it such a potent antioxidant.
How is this relevant to fertility?
Oxidative stress is a cost of having of living cells (i.e. being alive…), reactive oxygen species and free radicals in the ovaries are likely to be a factor when trying to conceive. Its likely that there is a threshold level of oxidative stress that inhibits conception.
Shilajit sweeps up those free radicals.
Before you start; no, this is not 'fat shaming'.
Obesity is the cause of fertility struggles in 6% of women who have never been pregnant before, according to the the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Overweight and obese women have higher levels of a hormone called leptin, which is produced in fatty tissue. This can disrupt the hormone balance and leads to reduced fertility.
Leptin is also one of the hormones responsible for inducing hunger. So that’s a cycle we want to stay well away from.
So how does being overweight affect fertility, seems like a big jump?
Obesity affects 30–75% of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome and a number of studies have indicated that weight loss improves fertility among these women. Obesity can affect fertility by changing the way a woman’s body stores sex hormones because fat cells convert a male hormone known as androstenedione into a female hormone, oestrogen.
Having either too low or too high levels of oestrogen can cause irregular menstrual cycles, fatigue, or mood swings. All of this can combine to affect reproductive function.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Food, found that obese participants who had taken shilajit responded better to exercise than those who didn’t.
One of the reasons for this is there is ample evidence linking shilajit to elevated energy levels which is obviously a useful weapon to have in your arsenal in the eternal battle with your weight. In the ancient Ayurvedic texts, shilajit is classified as ‘lekhaniya’, meaning it is a fat-scraping substance – it removes excess fat from your body.
Shilajit also boosts your metabolism which aids in burning body fat. As you age, your metabolism will slow down which inevitably results in lipid deposits accumulating in your body. I.e., you get fat.
Shilajit is rich in a range of essential nutrients that strengthen and sustain the body which is why it can help curb your appetite. When taken regularly, supplementing shilajit helps in satiating sudden hunger pangs and can play a pivotal role in your weight loss regimen.
3. Regulate Menstrual Cycle
Menstruation can be a quite uncomfortable and painful experience for many women, especially those who are suffering with irregular cycles. Menstruation cramps happen because of contractions in the uterus, or womb (which is a muscle). If it contracts too strongly during your menstrual cycle, it can press against nearby blood vessels. This briefly cuts off the supply of oxygen to the uterus. It’s this lack of oxygen causes your pain and cramping.
Hormones control the menstrual cycle. Namely, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinising hormone, oestrogen, and progesterone.
When these are all out of whack, irregular and painful periods will follow.
Although research exists showing that shilajit can increase testosterone in males (which we will get to soon), there is no indication that it can substantially elevate testosterone in women, which is good news if you don’t want to accidentally end up looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But bad news if you do. This is due to the balancing nature of adaptogens.
Because shilajit helps you to generate follicle-stimulating hormone at the appropriate times, it has significantly different effects in women than it does in men.
Follicle-stimulating hormone is a hormone released from the anterior pituitary gland that then binds to the testes or ovaries and enhances sex-specific reproductive behaviour. In men, follicle-stimulating hormone can increase testosterone and semen production, but in women, follicle-stimulating hormone binds to the ovaries and signals them to generate oestrogen and progesterone, that help to regulate the menstrual cycle.
Xenoestrogens – human-made chemicals that mimic the effects of oestrogens in the body – are known to suppress gonadotropins like follicle-stimulating hormone and its sister molecule, luteinising hormone. This happens through natural feedback inhibition as the body senses that oestrogen levels are too high, and thus shuts down the production of the compounds that signal its release.
The problem with this is that instead of the body producing its own natural oestrogen, which is healthy in normal amounts, your body is then running on higher amounts of synthetic oestrogens and has an insufficiency of real oestrogen.
Adaptogenic compounds like shilajit ensure that the Hyptothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian axis is functioning properly and thus can help to compensate for the negative effects of chemical endocrine disruptors like BPA and glyphosate on female hormones.
1. Increase Testosterone
Testosterone levels in men have been dropping for some time. Some estimate that there is a 2% drop every year. This figure is likely to increase with the ever more intruding creep of modernity into our lives. For many men, this means that the chances are you have low testosterone, but you don’t even know it. Some men will have lower levels than others of course and it’s worth noting that levels the medical community describe as ‘normal’ today may have been classified as ‘low’ only a decade or two ago. Some signs include:
a low sex-drive
loss of muscle mass
increased body fat
In one clinical study of male volunteers, half of the participants were given a placebo and half were given a 250mg dose of purified shilajit twice a day. After 90 consecutive days, the study found that participants receiving purified shilajit had significantly higher free and total testosterone levels compared to the placebo group.
One hypothesis of how this might work is through its effect on the endocrine system.
It should be obvious why this is significant, but in case it isn’t; testosterone is the primary sex hormone in males, but it is also present in women. It is responsible for muscle growth, maintaining a low and healthy body fat percentage, as well as improving overall physical performance.
Crucially though, testosterone plays a key role in the development of sperm. The relationship between testosterone levels, the development of sperm and men’s health is complicated.
Studies have shown that having low testosterone directly correlates to having a lower sperm count and experiencing male fertility issues. This is a worrying trend, with sperm counts among men dropping by more than half over the last 40 years, and low testosterone levels being associated with reduced sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
So, the simple solution would seem to be: get more testosterone in the bloodstream, problem solved?
This is incorrect to an extent. One thing you absolutely don’t want to do if you’re trying to conceive is get yourself on testosterone replacement therapy.
The relationship between testosterone, and sperm count and quality is linear if the increase in testosterone is natural – its through lifestyle changes or supplemental, like using shilajit.
Which brings us to…
2. Sperm Count and Quality
To highlight the effect shilajit has on sperm counts, let’s take a look at one study in particular.
"Clinical Evaluation of Spermatogenic Activity of Processed Shilajit in Oligospermia". Which roughly translates to “can shilajit make me more of a man?”. Or something along those lines.
The 60 male participants who were technically ‘infertile’ were given shilajit twice a day after a meal. The study lasted 90 days and they used a semenogram (a posh way of saying the participants ejaculated into a test tube) to measure serum testosterone, leutenising hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, malondialdehyde (which is a marker for oxidative stress), and the content of the semen.
The results are startling:
Total sperm count increased by 61%
Normal sperm count increased by 18.9%
Sperm motility improved by between 12.7 and 17.4%
Serum testosterone increased by 23.5%
Follicle-stimulating hormone increased by 9.4%
What does this mean for you?
Shilajit works very similarly in men and women on a molecular level. We have spoken about oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species. About how it can redress the balance between free-radicals and antioxidants, and about how it effects testosterone levels in men but not women to the same degree. But it works differently at the level of ‘organism’. Follicle-stimulating hormone works differently in men and women for example.
And more importantly, it is an adaptogen. Which means that it promotes balance. Balance can mean different things to each individual person depending on the environment of you physically place yourself in, and the environment of your body.
Shilajit gives you what you need, even if you don’t know what you actually need.
Because let’s be honest, who does?