I have recently been introduced to a new product, shea nut extract, for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Shea nuts have been used in food and Traditional African Medicine for generations, in West Africa in particular. A Danish company has developed a method to greatly concentrate and enhance the triterpenes found in shea nut, yielding a 70% triterpene extract. This high triterpene shea nut extract was allowed into the US in 2004, by the FDA and designated as a new dietary ingredient.
My interest in this product is spurred on by the multiple mechanisms in which these triterpenes seem to impact the joint: regulating cytokines, reducing TNF-a, IL-6, reducing osteocalcin, improving circulation of the joint matrix, slowing inflammatory bone loss, reducing cartilage destruction and restoring collagen.
In one randomized placebo controlled trial, 117 patients with radiographic and clinical evidence of osteoarthritis of the knee or hip were given shea nut extract or placebo for 15 weeks. TNF-alpha reduced 17.9% overall and 23.9% in the group with elevated levels. IL-6 fell by 30.9%; C-reactive protein reduced by 20.6%; CTX-II, a cartilage marker fell by 28.7% in patients with elevated levels vs. an increase in placebo of 17.6%; and osteocalcin reduced by 9.2% in the elevated group indicating bone repair mechanisms.
Animal studies are also being conducted by the manufacturers of high triterpene shea nut extract showing comparable anti-inflammatory effects of ibuprofen but no adverse effects as are often seen in ibuprofen. Other studies are in development and I look forward to those publications.
I have surveyed some retailers and consumers in the natural products market who have been aware of and using high triterpene shea nut extract for several months and been pleased to hear of the consistent anecdotal, yet positive reports. For practitioners, shea nut extract yielding 70% triterpenes is available as BSP 201. I look forward to increasing my own clinical usage of this product and hope to see the same positive results in my patients. With its multiple mechanisms of actions, early research, and anecdotal reports, shea nut extract leaves me optimistic.
 Cheras PA, Myers SP, Outerbridge K, & Nielsen G. Randomised Placebo Controlled Trial on the Safety and Efficacy of BSP-201 in Osteoarthritis. Australian Centre for Complementary Medicine Education and Research (ACCMER). Sept. 4, 2007