Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Brandon Medrano-Montes, athlete and founder of Better Brain and Body, believes that a sticky, black Ayurvedic medicine found high in the Himalayan mountains is going to transform the way that you live, eat and perform.
Called shilajit, studies by the National Institutes of Health show that it can provide important trace minerals and reduce inflammation, and Medrano thinks it is the most promising dietary additive that you’ve never heard of—until now.
Better Brain and Body, founded by Medrano and Marcos Romero-Turner, both seniors at Warner Pacific and competing in this year’s Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge, created a protein bar infused with shilajit for athletes and students that can improve their health and help them focus on the field and in the classroom.
It only took one sample to make Medrano a believer.
“I went to the field and I was just in the zone. I was like, wow, I've never felt this before,” he said. Medrano started to think about how shilajit could improve the lives of others.
The first hurdle: Shilajit has a very distinctive flavor.
“It tastes like metal. Like, straight up, like metal,” Medrano said. “It's a kind of Ayurvedic medicine, and it's been around for thousands of years. It's, like, really dead and decomposed plants and animals that have been decomposing inside of high-altitude mountains like the Himalayan mountains or the Altai Mountains in Asia.”
Medrano is not one to back down from a challenge. What he says about shilajit is true. But like a true shilajit believer devoted to human health and vitality, Medrano tried and tested different varieties, and with time he developed a delicious protein bar in chocolate and vanilla flavors that packs a punch. “People love them,” he said. “And it does what we say it does. It gives you energy, mental clarity and mental focus.”
There are few corners of Western culture more susceptible to fads and trends than diet and nutrition, in which the data is often contradictory and used to serve the purpose of marketing, not science.
There’s still so much not yet known about this facet of the human body, the gut, that is so complexly connected with its environment through food that some researchers call it “the second brain.”
The effects of any dietary choice are highly individual and epigenetic, and the science of dietetics as a whole is just a few decades old. Any choice should be complemented with a healthy curiosity about purpose, effect and best practices.
But here’s the thing: Shilajit actually shows promise.
“Better Brain and Body really came about as a result of me being an athlete and wanting the best for my brain, my body, myself,” Medrano said. He is a varsity soccer player at Warner Pacific with hopes to continue playing professionally after his senior year.
The improvement in Medrano’s energy, focus and clarity on the field in competition extend beyond athletics. “That's what I was really looking for,” he said of how he performed. “But the long term benefits are even greater. I thought, well, why not put it into a protein bar?”
Although shilajit is not approved by the FDA, it is completely safe to eat when properly sourced. It is one of the most important Ayurvedic medicines, but it’s largely unheard of in the West. It has been known and used for 3,000 years in the Eastern world, traditionally sourced from the Himalayas, though it is also found in Russia’s Altai region, Tibet, Afghanistan, and the Andes of South America. It’s reportedly used by Sherpas to increase physical strength and promote long life.
In the West, studies of the supplement by the National Institutes of Health show that shilajit is a powerful antioxidant rich in fulvic acid and dozens of necessary trace minerals. “They basically contain a whole bunch of minerals—essential metals—that usually aren't in your daily diet,” Medrano said.
Western science has come to understand that oxidative stress—inflammation—is closely linked with many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even cancer. Importantly, shilajit is finding therapeutic applications as an anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic supplement. It has also shown to improve cognitive disorders that range from anxiety to Alzheimer’s.
But among its many potential applications, shilajit shows the most promise because it is not considered a true supplement. Unlike most protein or vitamin and mineral supplements, shilajit is known as a nutraceutical, a food that also has demonstrated benefits for human health. That’s important because, among the few things about which the science of nutrition is certain, food generally has less nutritional value and more negative health consequences the more it is refined and processed.
The nutritional value of shilajit is a byproduct of decomposition that unfolds over the course of millennia—yes, a thousand years, which is how long some sources of shilajit break down.
How this happens is something of a mystery, though sources suggest that organic matter accumulates underground, where it slowly decomposes into humus through microbial activity and the tremendous tectonic pressure of the mountains themselves, whereafter it emerges hundreds or even thousands of years later via the evulsion force of springwater.
“I want an edge over my opponent at all times,” Medrano said. “So I have to take care of what I eat because what I eat is a reflection of how I feel, how I play, everything.” That applies to work as much as athletics, and Medrano believes Better Brain and Body can help anyone who seeks to improve their performance.
Medrano earned an internship opportunity while Better Brain and Body was in development. At the time, he also balanced his social calendar with his coursework, and he often arrived at his internship tired. “I'm coming into work and I'm still a little tired. You know, I'm up late. You know, what college kids do,” Medrano said.
That could describe any one of us, and shilajit could help.
“I haven't had breakfast, and you know what, a protein bar, an energy bar, a meal replacement bar—it really fits all three of those categories. It would really help someone like me in my position or people similar to me.”