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Researchers Claim Shea Butter Allergy Risk Low

December 23, 2010

Shea butter, a common ingredient in many organic baby products, is unlikely to trigger nut allergies, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have determined.

According to Reuters Health, shea butter is used in a wide variety of different products, but since it originates from a tree nut, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists it as a potential allergen. That piqued the interest of Dr. Kanwaljit K. Chawla, a pediatrician in training at the New York City institute, who decided to test the substance to see if it could be as potentially hazardous as peanuts or walnuts.

“I was looking up baby products and realized that many of the ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products contained shea butter, including wipes, diaper creams, baby lotion and nipple cream for breastfeeding mothers,” Chawla said. “I saw that the FDA listed shea nut as something to avoid if you are allergic to tree nuts. But shea nut is in everything. How is it possible to avoid it?”

Since the proteins contained in tree nuts are the primary source of allergic reactions, Chawla and her colleagues reportedly attempted to extract some of the nutrients from shea nuts, which are primarily comprised of fat. Once the fat was removed from the shea nuts, however, Reuters Health says that the investigators were left with just a fraction of the protein found in cashews or peanuts.

“Even trace amounts of nut proteins can still pose problems for people susceptible to the substances, so Chawla’s group tested the ability of shea protein to trigger an immune reaction,” the news agency reported on Wednesday. “Using blood taken from several volunteers with known allergies to nuts, the researchers found that the principle immune molecule that would usually invoke an allergic response, immunoglobulin E, barely bound to the shea protein.”

“In other words, Chawla said, although shea nut in theory could be an allergy trigger, the evidence from her study suggests it’s not. At least the immune system does not appear to recognize it as a nut protein,” Reuters Health added. “What’s more, since Americans typically don’t eat shea butter–it can be an ingredient in European chocolates–the risk is likely even smaller.”

The results of the study appear in the most recent edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the official publication of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. In addition to Chawla, Ramon Bencharitiwong, Rosalia Ayuso, Galina Grishina, and Anna Nowak-WÄgrzyn are credited as authors on the paper.

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