What’s fulvic acid, and can it help heal your gut?
Fulvic acid is traditionally used to promote immune function and aid digestion, with indications that it can also help lessen inflammation and oxidative damage. But what is fulvic acid, and can it really help support the healing of your gut?
Here’s what to know about this ancient compound
The traditional Ayurvedic medicine shilajit is made up of about 15 to 20-percent fulvic acid and is a mineral pitch or vegetable asphalt found in the Himalayas and other mountain ranges. It’s blackish-brown and includes minerals and metabolites from fungi, alongside fulvic acids.
Fulvic acid is typically provided as a natural supplement in liquid or capsule form in combination with magnesium and amino acids. Shilajit is usually available in capsules or as a fine powder that can be added to beverages.
What about humic acid? Is that the same as fulvic acid? Not quite. Humic acid and fulvic acid are both humic substances.
But there are some key differences between the two:
- Humic acids are large molecules and aren’t soluble in water, unlike fulvic acids.
- They are, however, soluble in alkaline liquids and work their magic in the gut without being absorbed by the body.
- These acids help to unlock nutrients, allowing fulvic acids to then transport these nutrients around the body.
- Humic acids also chelate toxic metals, helping to prevent these from being absorbed.1
And, humic acids are excellent at stimulating the activity of microbes, supporting a robust microbial ecology. So, while there are individual benefits to humic and fulvic acids, a combination of the two, such as in Body Ecology’s Ancient Earth Minerals, is optimal.
Humic acids can help set the conditions that make it easier for fulvic acids to transport nutrients into cells. They can also help bind to toxic heavy metals to prevent transport by fulvic acids and thereby minimize absorption of these harmful metals.1
Research shows that humic acids can enhance the gut microbiome in humans. In one clinical trial, volunteers given humic acid supplements for 45 days had a significant increase in the concentration of gut microbiota without upsetting the existing balance of bacteria.2
Humic acids have also been studied for their potential effects on inflammation and immune stimulation, analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, antioxidant and antimicrobial functions, and even antiviral activities and protection against stroke.3-5
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What are the benefits of fulvic acid and shilajit? A helpful breakdown
Shilajit is commonly associated with immune-modulation, antioxidant, diuretic, antihypertensive, and hypoglycemic effects.6 When applied topically, shilajit may have antiseptic and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.7 And, shilajit may also help with tissue regeneration and in creating lab-grown tissue for transplant, though research is very preliminary.8
There are several studies supporting the benefits of shilajit:
- In one small study involving 20 people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), those taking their regular antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications and up to 9,000 mg of shilajit per day had greater improvements in a variety of symptoms compared to those taking the ART alone.9
- These included less nausea and diarrhea, as well as less unwanted weight loss.
- Shilajit also seemed to enhance response to ART and help protect against side effects, including damage to the liver and kidneys.
Fulvic acid is thought to be responsible for these health effects of shilajit, and while there’s little solid research on use of the supplement in humans, there are some animal and laboratory studies suggesting potential benefits. However, fulvic acids can have both anti-inflammatory and beneficial pro-inflammatory effects, as well as anti- and beneficial pro-oxidant effects. More research is needed to figure out exactly why this is the case.
This brings us to how fulvic acid may impact health in several different ways:
1. Fulvic acid and inflammation.
In some lab studies, fulvic acid inhibited the release of tumor necrosis factor alpha and cyclo-oxygenase-2, two pro-inflammatory substances.10,11
Because of this, fulvic acids have been used in cases of asthma, allergies, and eczema, as well as other disorders linked to overactive immune cells and inflammation.12 One small study found that fulvic acids performed similarly to 1-percent hydrocortisone in reducing skin symptoms in an allergen challenge in humans.13
As for the pro-inflammatory effects of fulvic acids, these may also be beneficial. It sounds strange, but given that inflammation is actually a key part of healthy immune function, it makes a certain kind of sense that some promotion of a healthy inflammatory response could help with initial healing and fighting off infection.
In one study, fulvic acid was found to stimulate immune function and initial inflammatory responses when applied topically to wounds infected with Staphylococcus aureus.14 This helped to stop the infection from spreading. Similar effects have been seen with topical fulvic acids applied to wounds infected with antibiotic-resistant pathogens.15
2. Fulvic acid as an antioxidant.
Fulvic acid has also been linked to antioxidant effects, including reducing the production of reactive oxygen species that can cause tissue damage.16 And, there’s some evidence that fulvic acid might increase levels of antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and glutathione.17,18
Again, though, just as with inflammation, fulvic acids may also increase oxidative stress so shouldn’t be taken simply as an antioxidant substance. In some cases, this can be a good thing, potentially helping the body to kill cancer cells, but in other cases, it could cause damage to healthy cells.19
3. Fulvic acid to help repair the gut.
In soil, fulvic acid has been seen to enhance soil microbe composition (the soil’s microbiome) and conjugate various minerals, which helps plants to absorb and use those minerals to stay healthy.
While research is scant on the effects of fulvic acids in human gut health, it can reasonably be expected that fulvic acid may help support a healthy microbiome and enhance nutrient absorption by increasing digestive enzyme activity.20,21 It could also help with healing by modulating inflammation and oxidative damage.
And remember, humic acids can enhance the gut microbiome, making for a richer, more robust population of beneficial bacteria to support a healthy gastrointestinal system.2 There may even be a place for fulvic and humic acids as a natural mouthwash, to help promote a healthy oral microbiome, bust up biofilms, and improve gastrointestinal health from the top down.
There are also hopeful signs that fulvic acids may offer support in cases of diabetes. Based on research in non-human animals given shilajit, the thought is that fulvic acids may help reduce the impact of inflammation and oxidative stress in diabetes and help support a healthy microbiome (something which tends to change in people with diabetes).22,23
As mentioned, humic and fulvic acids are good binders and have been shown to bind and help clear heavy metals.1
However, because of their binding qualities, fulvic minerals enhance absorption of things we don’t want to enhance as well. As such, it’s best to use humic and fulvic minerals together to keep things in balance.
Fulvic acids hold a lot of promise, but we’re yet to fully understand their impact on health. What we do know is that these supplements are a rich source of many essential minerals, including trace minerals needed in small amounts by the body for a variety of physiological processes.24
And, because these minerals are presented in an organic way, your body may have an easier time assimilating and using them.
- 1. Martina Klučáková, Marcela Pavlíková, “Lignitic Humic Acids as Environmentally-Friendly Adsorbent for Heavy Metals”, Journal of Chemistry, vol. 2017, Article ID 7169019, 5 pages, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/7169019.
- 2. Swidsinski A, Dörffel Y, Loening-Baucke V, et al. Impact of humic acids on the colonic microbiome in healthy volunteers. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(5):885-890. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i5.885.
- 3. de Melo BA, Motta FL, Santana MH. Humic acids: Structural properties and multiple functionalities for novel technological developments. Mater Sci Eng C Mater Biol Appl. 2016 May; 62():967-74.
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- 11. Chien SJ, Chen TC, Kuo HC, Chen CN, Chang SF. Fulvic acid attenuates homocysteine-induced cyclooxygenase-2 expression in human monocytes. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2015 Mar 13;15:61. doi: 10.1186/s12906-015-0583-x. PMID: 25888188; PMCID: PMC4369892.
- 12. Yamada P, Isoda H, Han JK, Talorete TP, Abe Y. Inhibitory effect of fulvic acid extracted from Canadian sphagnum peat on chemical mediator release by RBL-2H3 and KU812 cells. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2007 May;71(5):1294-305. doi: 10.1271/bbb.60702. Epub 2007 May 7. Erratum in: Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2008 Oct;72(10):2008E4. PMID: 17485833.
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- 14. Sabi, Riaz & Vrey, Pieter & Van Rensburg, Constance. (2012). Carbohydrate-derived Fulvic acid (CHD-FA) inhibits Carrageenan-induced inflammation and enhances wound healing: efficacy and Toxicity study in rats. Drug Development Research. 73. 10.1002/ddr.20445.
- 15. Zhao Y, Paderu P, Delmas G, Dolgov E, Lee MH, Senter M, Park S, Leivers S, Perlin DS. Carbohydrate-derived fulvic acid is a highly promising topical agent to enhance healing of wounds infected with drug-resistant pathogens. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2015 Oct;79(4 Suppl 2):S121-9. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000000737. PMID: 26406424.
- 16. Visser SA. Effect of humic substances on mitochondrial respiration and oxidative phosphorylation. Sci Total Environ. 1987 Apr;62:347-54. doi: 10.1016/0048-9697(87)90521-3. PMID: 2953069.
- 17. Gao Y, He J, He Z, Li Z, Zhao B, Mu Y, Lee JY, Chu Z. Effects of fulvic acid on growth performance and intestinal health of juvenile loach Paramisgurnus dabryanus (Sauvage). Fish Shellfish Immunol. 2017 Mar;62:47-56. doi: 10.1016/j.fsi.2017.01.008. Epub 2017 Jan 9. PMID: 28089895.
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- 19. Pant, Kishor & Gupta, Anchal & Gupta, Parul & Ashraf, Anam & Yadav, Ajay & Venugopal, Senthil. (2015). Anti-Proliferative and Anticancer Properties of Fulvic Acid on Hepatic Cancer Cells. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology. 5. S2. 10.1016/j.jceh.2015.07.005.
- 20. Gao Y, He J, He Z, Li Z, Zhao B, Mu Y, Lee JY, Chu Z. Effects of fulvic acid on growth performance and intestinal health of juvenile loach Paramisgurnus dabryanus (Sauvage). Fish Shellfish Immunol. 2017 Mar;62:47-56. doi: 10.1016/j.fsi.2017.01.008. Epub 2017 Jan 9. PMID: 28089895.
- 21. Lien, N. “Effects of Fulvic Acid and Probiotic on Growth Performance, Nutrient Digestibility, Blood Parameters and Immunity of Pigs -.” Journal of Animal Science Advances 2 (2012): 711-721.
- 22. Bhattacharya, Salil K. Shilajit attenuates streptozotocin induced diabetes mellitus and decrease in pancreatic islet superoxide dismutase activity in rats. Volume9, Issue1, February 1995, Pages 41-44.
- 23. Trivedi N A, Mazumdar B, Bhatt J D, Hemavathi K G. Effect of shilajit on blood glucose and lipid profile in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Indian J Pharmacol 2004;36:373-6.
- 24. Swat M, Rybicka I, Gliszczyńska-Świgło A. Characterization of Fulvic Acid Beverages by Mineral Profile and Antioxidant Capacity. Foods. 2019 Nov 22;8(12):605. doi: 10.3390/foods8120605. PMID: 31766604; PMCID: PMC6963745.