The Health Benefits of Shea Butter
Last time, I promised to write about some of the many reasons Shea is so important. I focused on the economic importance of Shea to women in Africa. The second reason: Good health! Shea is good for you – particularly your skin, your muscles and your heart.
In the Sahel, where my family lives, there is a single rainy season and a long dry season – it gets very hot by 9 a.m. The sun is ardent and relentless. As more and more scientific research shows, shea is exceptionally beneficial to skin – it does not just moisturize skin; research shows shea actually repairs damaged skin. When you see a woman’s skin in that part of Africa you can see right away how effective shea is! Despite the heat and dryness of the air, an African woman’s skin is almost always supple and beautiful. You might wonder what’s her secret – well to be honest her secret is she uses shea butter on her skin every day. Additionally, research shows that shea butter contains compounds known to inhibit cancer. Skin cancer is rare in West Africa not only because of the dark pigment of our skin; it’s probably also rare because shea protects your skin from it.
But those are the benefits best known for skin; shea is also great for your muscles because it is a natural anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is one of the reasons muscles feel sore after you’re workout. So, when you apply shea, you help your muscles recover.
Shea is also great for the heart – if you eat it. Who eats shea, you may ask? Actually, probably you – you just don’t know it! Many people are surprised to learn most shea is consumed in food. Millions of people in West Africa eat shea because in the village, we use shea butter to fry food. But big food companies, like Hershey’s, Nestle, Cadbury’s and many others, use shea in the form of specialty fats in their chocolate candy products. So why is shea so good for your heart? Shea contains a type of fat that is known to reduce the bad form of cholesterol in the blood stream. That’s right, it’s basically a natural “statin” – a type of drug that doctors prescribe to those with high cholesterol. It probably does not help to eat chocolate candies, however – because the specialty fats are often mixed with palm oil, which is actually very bad for your heart. If you can, get your hands on raw shea butter – make sure it has not been mixed with palm oil! You can tell if it’s been mixed with palm oil by looking at the color – 100% raw shea butter is a creamy white color. If it’s yellow, someone has probably mixed palm oil into it. Unfortunately, I see this quite often! Talk to the vendor if it looks yellow and ask him or her where the shea butter is from and how they got it. Unscrupulous business people will mix in palm oil because it is generally cheaper than shea.
So, that’s the second reason shea is so important and great – it is healthier in many ways than many vegetable fats we consume! Let me know what you think in the comments below!