NAUČNI DOKAZI EFIKASNOSTI PRIMENE SHEA I COCOA BUTTER-a KAO MASNE BAZE LIPOVIT Mr ph PAVLOVIĆ KREMA
American Journal of Life Sciences
2014; 2(5): 303-307
Published online October 30, 2014 (http://www.sciencepublishinggroup.com/j/ajls)
ISSN: 2328-5702 (Print); ISSN: 2328-5737 (Online)
Effects of topical and dietary use of shea butter
Malachi Oluwaseyi Israel
Department of Biochemistry, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria
To cite this article:
Malachi Oluwaseyi Israel. Effects of Topical and Dietary Use of Shea Butter on Animals. American Journal of Life Sciences.
Vol. 2, No. 5, 2014, pp. 303-307. doi: 10.11648/j.ajls.20140205.18
Abstract: Shea butter is the fat extracted from the nut of Africa Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). It is used in cosmetic
formulations and as a substitute for Cocoa butter in chocolate industries. It is edible and used cooking fat in Africa. The
saponifiable fraction of Shea butter is composed primarily of stearic and oleic acids with lesser amounts of palmitic, linoleic and
arachidic acids while the unsaponifiable fraction of Shea butter is composed of bioactive substances that are responsible for Shea
butter’s medicinal properties. Shea butter is a solid at room temperature and melts at body temperature. It is therefore useful for
skin care as it has sun screening properties and acts as an emollient and skin moisturizer. Topical use of Shea butter has also
demonstrated anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. Dietary intake of Shea butter has hypocholesterolemic effect and
reduces serum and organ protein concentrations.
Keywords: Shea Butter, Skin, Allergy, Inflammation, Cholesterol
Shea butter is an off-white or ivory-coloured fat extracted
from the nut of African Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa
formerly Butryspermum paradoxum, B.parkii and B.
paradoxa)  Shea tree grows naturally in the wild of the dry
savanna belt of West Africa, from Senegal in the West to
Sudan in the East and onto the foot hills of the Ethiopian
mountains [2-4]. The West African trees are classified as the
subspecies “paradoxa” and the East African one as
“nilotica”[5-7]. It is considered a sacred tree by many
communities and ethnic groups and plays important roles in
religious and cultural ceremonies where is also believed to
have some spiritual protective powers [8,9]. It has been
claimed to possess potentials to improve nutrition, boost food
supply in the annual hungry season , foster rural
development, and support sustainable land care . Different
parts of the plant including leaves, roots, seeds, fruit and stem
bark have been used in the treatment of enteric infections such
as diarrhea, dysentery, helminthes and other gastrointestinal
tract infections, skin diseases and wound infections . The
bark is used to suppress cough and also to treat leprosy .
Shea nut contains about 60% fat (Shea butter) , and
together with the oil palm serve as sources of edible oil for
many households in many parts of the Sahel Africa,
particularly Northern Nigeria [3,11,15-18].
Shea butter is renowned for its use as a component of
cosmetic formulations [16,19] and as a substitute for Cocoa
butter in chocolate industries , although the taste is
noticeably different . Shea butter is used by local healers
as a treatment for rheumatism, inflammation of the nostrils,
nasal congestion, leprosy, cough, and minor bone dislocation
[22-25]. It is also used as raw material for the production
margarine, soap, detergent and candle . Low quality butter
and by-products of processed nuts are smeared on earthen
walls of houses as a waterproof to protect walls during the
rainy season . Shea butter has also been used for soothing
and accelerating healing after circumcision, and for
preventing stretch marks in African pregnant women and as an
insect repellent, providing protection against Simulium
infection . There are no reports of allergic reaction owing
to consumption of Shea butter or its produce [28,29]. The
United States Agency for International Development, Gassel
Consulting, and many other companies have suggested a
classification system for Shea butter separating it into five
grades: A (raw or unrefined, extracted using water), B
(refined), C (highly refined and extracted with solvents such
as hexane), D (lowest uncontaminated grade), E (with
contaminants) . Large quantities of Shea butter are
produced in West Africa though the exact production figures
are not known . This work reviews the effects of topical
and dietary use of Shea butter on animal system.
2. Chemical Composition of Shea Butter
In addition to a stearic and oleic acids rich saponifiable
fraction, Shea butter contains an unsaponifiable fraction
composed of bioactive substances that are responsible for
Shea butter’s medicinal properties . With regional
variation in concentrations [6,33], the unsaponifiable fraction
of Shea butter is composed primarily of triterpene alcohols,
with some hydrocarbons, sterols, and other minor components
such as vitamin E [34-36]. The saponifiable triglyceride
fraction of Shea butter constitutes about 90% by mass of the
butter [34-38] and is composed primarily of stearic and oleic
acids with lesser amounts of palmitic, linoleic and arachidic
acids . The triacylglyceride fraction is made up of fatty
acids (acyl chains) attached to a glycerol backbone . Since
different fatty acids are present in Shea butter, different
combinations of fatty acids attached to the glycerol are
possible. In Shea butter, the most predominant combination is
SOS (S-Stearic, O-oleic) making up to 40% of the total
triacylglycerol molecules, followed by SOO (27 %), POS
(P-palmitic, 6%) and POP (1%) . Di Vincenzo and
co-workers  however concluded that SOO, OOO, and SOS
were the major triglycerides in Shea butter with regional
variation. Shea butter contains relatively high amount of
saturated fatty acids compared to other plant-sourced lipids
including: grape seed oil (total saturated fatty acids:
10.4-14.3 % of total fatty acids), olive oil (12.7-16.2 %), and
canola oil (5.5-7.7 %) which are all, in contrast to Shea butter,
liquid at room temperature and have saturated fatty acids less
than 20 % of total fatty acids [41-43]. Shea butter fatty acid
composition has been found to vary across the African
countries [6,44]. Maranz and co-workers , as shown in
Table 1, nevertheless presented ranges and mean values of the
fatty acid compositions.
Table 1. Fatty Acid profile of Shea Butter
Fatty Acids Mean (%) Min (%) Max (%)
Palmitic (16:0) 4.0 2.6 8.4
Stearic (18:0) 41.5 25.6 50.2
Oleic (18:1) 46.4 37.1 62.1
Linoleic (18:2) 6.6 0.6 10.8
Arachidic(20:0) 1.3 0.0 3.5
3. Effects of Shea Butter
Sun-screening function: Sun-screens absorb or reflect some
of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching the skin
exposed to sunlight and thus helps protect against sunburn,
preventing erythema and reducing further risk of sun-induced
skin-cancer. The major cause of photocarcinogenesis is UVB
radiation (290-320 nm) since it directly interacts with cellular
DNA, forming cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers and thymine
glycols . Cinnamate esters of triterpene alcohol which are
the main constituent of Shea butter’s unsaponifiable fraction
are known to have strong absorbance of UV radiation in the
wavelength range at 250-300 nm, which make the addition of
Shea butter’s unsaponifiables into sunscreens provide
synergistic sun-protection by increasing absorption of UVB
radiation . However, the effectiveness of the triterpenes is
somewhat doubted since studies using double-fractionated
Shea butter with 20% of triterpene esters found that this
triterpenic fraction only provided the sun protection factor
(SPF) of 3-4 [36,47].
As an emollient and skin moisturizer: Due to its semi-solid
characteristics and buttery consistency, Shea butter is great
emollient and moisturizer for the skin, scalp and hair even
without further processing . However Shea butter is
usually found as active component of processed moisturizers
. In addition, fractionated Shea butter especially olein
fraction is easily formulated in creams or surfactant based
products such as bath products and shampoo to provide the
skin, scalp, and hair with well-maintained or increased
moisture [36,46,49]. Shea butter melts at body temperature,
acts as a „refatting“ agent, has good water-binding properties
and absorbs rapidly into the skin; making it useful for skin
care . In an article titled ‘Winter Itch’, Shea butter was
recommended for repairing dry inflamed skin caused by
dermatitis and as a night time moisturizer for hands and feet
. Also, in a study by Poelman and co workers , a
cream containing 5% Shea Butter versus a placebo cream
were applied to the forearms of 10 volunteers. Short-term
moisturization was observed; it peaked after 1 hour and
persists for 8 hours. For all subjects, a daily application
maintains a very good moisturization of the superficial layers
of the skin. Shea butter has also been shown to be superior to
mineral oil at preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
In a test where participants’ arms were washed in ethanol, it
was found that Shea butter was able to help the skin totally
recover from TEWL within two hours . One study showed
that it worked as an emollient for eczema. Using a scale from
zero to five — zero denoting clear and five denoting very
severe disease — Shea butter took a three down to a one, while
Vaseline only took a three down to a two .
Anti-aging properties: It has been revealed that Shea butter
has UV anti-erythemic activity, which helps tissue cell
regeneration and softening of the skin . In a clinical study
involving 30 volunteers, Renard  reported that Shea butter
diminished various aging signs. In another clinical study by
the same author for studying dry, delicate or aging skin, 49
volunteers applied twice a day either 15% or pure Shea Butter
and discovered that Shea butter prevented photo-aging. Also,
in a study with rats, Shea butter was shown to boost collagen
production . Collagen and elastin are the major structural
proteins providing skin with toughness and plumpness and
α-amyrin and lupeol, the triterpenes found in the
unsaponifiable fraction of Shea butter, were found to
contribute to the inactivation of proteases such as
metalloprotease (e.g., collagenase) as well as serine protease
(e.g., elastase) . The anti-aging, potentially
collagen-boosting effects were attributed to its unsaponifiable
components [32, 36].
Anti-inflammatory properties: The anti-inflammatory
effects of Shea butter have been demonstrated through
inhibition of Inos, Cox-2, and Cytokines via the Nf-Kb
pathway in Lps-Activated J774 Macrophage cells . Loden
and Andersson  also showed that Shea butter will reduce
reaction to skin irritants. Hee  found α-amyrin to be the
most dominant triterpene in Shea butter’s unsaponifiable
fraction. Bioactivities of α-amyrin have been studied
especially with α-amyrin extracted from Protium kleinii, a
plant used in Brazillian folk medicine belonging to
Burseraceae family. When administered, α-amyrin was
reported to show dose-related antinociceptive effect against
the visceral pain when mixed with β-amyrin in vivo test on
mice . The topical application of α-amyrin showed
anti-inflammatory effects, inhibiting skin inflammatory
responses such as edema formation, migration of
polymorphonuclear leukocyte, and increase in tissue IL-1β
levels . In another study on the anti-inflammatory effect of
α-amyrin and β-amyrin of Protium heptaphyllum, the result
showed they retarded acute inflammation in rat model of
Effect on Cholesterol metabolism: Shea butter has been
reported to be used by a pharmaceutical company, BSP
Pharma, to lower cholesterol levels . Tholstrup and co
workers  observed a reduction of total cholesterol and low
density lipoprotein (LDL) by Shea butter administration and
attributed the anti-hypercholesterolemic effect to the high
stearic acid content of Shea butter. In a study with rats,
Akinwale and co workers  reported a significant reduction
in High density lipoprotein (HDL), Total Cholesterol and Low
density lipoprotein (LDL) when rats were fed with Shea butter.
The anti-hypercholesterolemic effect of Shea butter was
ascribed to the presence of saponins in it by Akinwale and co
workers . Saponin which is present in the unsaponifiable
fraction of Shea butter [34-36] has been reported by several
authors to lower serum cholesterol by forming mixed micelles
with cholesterol and bile acids in the intestine thereby
inhibiting its absorption and increasing its excretion [65-69].
Allergy: Although, Shea nut is distantly related to Brazil nut
 which cross-reacts with almond, hazelnut, walnut, and
peanut , there are no reports of allergy reaction owing to
the topical or oral use of Shea butter. Furthermore, Kanwaljit
and co workers  reported that Shea butter contains no
IgE-binding soluble proteins and reassures that Shea butter is
safe for use even for individual with nut allergy. Conversely,
Wiedner  found that pharmaceutical composition
containing at least 5% of Shea butter’s triterpenes such as
butyrospermol, lupeol, parkeol, germanicol, dammaradienol,
24-methylene-dammarenol, and α, and β-amyrins effectively
suppresses hypersensitivity reaction such as Immunoglobulin
E (IgE)-mediated allergic reactions and autoimmune reactions
Effect on protein metabolism: In a study with rats, Malachi
 observed a decrease in total protein concentrations of the
hepatic and renal tissues as well as the serum following the
administration of Shea butter based diet. The decrease was
attributed to the presence of saponin, which have been
reported reduce protein digestibility by the forming sparingly
digestible saponin-protein complexes in the intestine [74,75].
Conversely, Belewu and Yahaya  reported that there was
no digestive disturbance in feeding goats with Shea butter
cake after observing a significant increase in crude protein
digestibility in goats fed with Shea butter cake against control
goats fed with soybeans cake. Furthermore, Akinwale and co
worker  suggested that the decrease in serum albumin
level following the feeding of rats with Shea butter based diet
is as a result of utilization of Albumin in the transport of free
fatty acids resulting from lipolysis in adipocytes.
In summary, there is enough evidence to substantiate the
claims of the health benefits of the topical use of Shea butter.
The dietary use of Shea butter, though has the advantage of
anti-hypercholesterolemic actions, is suspected to interfere
with protein digestion.
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