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Does Shark Cartilage Cure Cancer?

Updated on July 16, 2013
Cartilage gives sharks dexterity
Cartilage gives sharks dexterity | Source

It amazes me how desperate people become, or how easily led they are, when fighting what could be the greatest battle of their lives - that of fighting cancer.

Sadly, too many people have jumped on the bandwagon and are desperate to push so-called 'cures' that gives the incurable false hope, or even worse, stops that person seeking the proper medical treatment that could indeed stop their cancer in its tracks.

The sale of shark cartilage in powdered or tablet form is one such example.

Take a look at Amazon or eBay for shark cartilage, and suddenly you realise it is not the Chinese and their love of shark fins soup that is causing the massive decline in numbers of our oceanic sharks.

It is you or me or anyone else who has been suckered into buying shark cartilage as a cure of cancer, or even just as a cure-all, despite the fact that this product has never been shown to be effective.

Never, not ever. It does NOT work. It is NOT a cure for cancer or for baldness, nor does it give you super-perceptory skills nor even help you see in the dark.

Please people, stop buying these products right now. Shark cartilage is only useful to sharks!

Although I am showing these book here, which are on sale at Amazon.com, I do not suggest you buy them. The Sharks Don't Get Cancer books by I. William Lane PhD, are simply untrue.

How the rumor started that shark cartilage cures cancer

Back in the 1950s when studies on sharks were at an early stage, it was widely believed that sharks did not get cancer.

This led some doctors to experiment with using cartilage from several animals - cows, sheep, chickens pigs and even sharks - as a treatment for cancer.

A New York surgeon, John Prudden, began his own experiments using powdered bovine cartilage. He later reported that tumours were successful shrunk in more than half of his patients.

Many many studies have since been conducted, and NONE have shown any level of success.

Then in 1992, a Dr. I William Lane published what became a really popular book entitled Sharks Don't Get Cancer, and he promoted shark cartilage supplements to alternative health freaks.

Dr Lane was not a medical doctor, but he was highly trained scientist with a doctorate in agricultural biochemistry and nutrition.

He had a special interest in seeking out alternative health remedies, and an even bigger interest in becoming wildly rich.

When through his book he was interviewed on TV show 60 Minutes, sales of his shark cartilage products went through the roof and he was spurred on to co-author a second book entitled Sharks Still Don't Get Cancer.

a shark
a shark | Source

What is Cancer and is there a cure?

Cancer is the name for a group of diseases where the cells in certain parts of the body multiply out of control.

There are many different types of cancers, and some are simple tumours that stay in the one place, while others spread throughout the body wreaking havoc.

There are so many different types of cancer that there can never be a cure as such, but nearly all of them are treatable and remission is perfectly attainable, especially if it is diagnosed early enough.

Cancer researchers have done some amazing work over the past 20 years or so, and more and more cancers are being successful treated with conventional cancer therapy.

Scientific American magazine
Scientific American magazine | Source

Sharks do get cancer

A fundamental flaw in the argument by Dr Lane is that sharks actually do get cancer. As more and more sharks are being caught, tagged and studied by ichthyologists (fish scientists), we are finding that a lot more sharks get cancer than previously thought.

Sharks do not have bone. Their jaws, skeletons and fins are made of cartilage, which is the same substance our noses are made of.

All animals have some cartilage, specifically in joints. It is a strong fibrous tissue similar to bone, but with extra elasticity.

There is no bone marrow in cartilage.

In animals, including us, bone marrow is at the center of our immune system. Within hours or days of ingesting bacteria, our bone marrow will respond by making cells designed to get rid of the interloper.

In sharks, their immune system is completely different.

They have nodules under the skin containing infection-fighting cells, ready to be released immediately if necessary.

Who knows if they even have lower rate of cancer?

Deep ocean sharks are unlikely to be caught by scientists, and tested.

Sick sharks will be eaten by other sharks long before they could ever make it to shore.

The Scientific American magazine quote findings from a study carried out by the University of Hawaii.

In 2004, Dr Gary Ostrander and his colleagues from the University of Hawaii published a survey of the Registry for Tumors in Lower Animals. Already in collection, they found 42 tumors in Chondrichthyes species (the class of cartilaginous fish that includes sharks, skates and rays). These included at least 12 malignant tumors and tumors throughout the body. Two sharks had multiple tumors, suggesting they were genetically susceptible or exposed to extremely high levels of carcinogens. There were even tumors found in shark cartilage!

shark cartilage
shark cartilage | Source

What is cartilage made from?

Normally used as connective tissue to give flexibility to joints, cartilage is made from a mixture of sugar, proteins and collagen.

It is an especially tough and strong substance, stronger than muscle, but with less strength than bone.

Cartilage has no blood vessels, and this has led researchers to investigate it to find out if it contains a substance to stop blood vessels from forming.

The name of this process is anti-angiogenesis, and it would seem that cartilage does have those properties.

Tumours need an active blood supply to feed the cancer cells, so by stopping the growth of blood vessels, cancers can be stopped in their tracks.

The race is on to define and extract the protein that causes this, and then to find a way of treating certain types of cancer with it.

The problem with ground down cartilage is that the protein molecules are large and are not actually absorbed into the bloodstream.

That means that even if an effective anti-angiogenesis therapy is developed, there is no way the human body can use it in its current form.

Study after study prove shark cartilage does not work

Proponents of shark cartilage supplements are keen to point out cases where people have supposedly been 'cured' of their cancer by taking shark cartilage.

All of those studies have been found to be flawed in more ways that one, and did not follow the recognised correct procedures for drug trialling.

Because sharks, calf and baby rabbit cartilage all show anti-angiogenesis properties, the FDA ran proper clinical trials on the shark cartilage to see if it could work as a cancer cure.

Three studies were carried out under the auspices of the US Food and Drug Administration.

One in 1998, one in 2005 and the other in 2007.

In all three studies, shark cartilage was found to make absolutely no difference at all to the outcome of various different types of cancers.

This completely disproves any claim that shark cartilage supplements are any kind of cure for cancer.

If this a topic you are interested in, I suggest further reading in the form of the three links I offer here.

These three articles are written by highly trusted and respected sites:

  • Scientific American
  • Cancer.org
  • Cancer Research UK

They will all tell you the same. Shark cartilage therapy does not cure cancer.

Shark cartilage side effects

Some of the shark cartilage side-effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feelings of extreme tiredness
  • Low blood sugar levels - can be extremely dangerous to diabetics on medication
  • Possibly dangerously high calcium levels to those taking diuretics
  • Fluid retention in hands and feet
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Itchiness of the skin
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • The passing of dark colored urine

Shark cartilage supplements are extremely dangerous for those with liver disease.

Anyone developing itchiness without an obvious cause should cease taking them immediately and seek urgent medical help. Itchiness, yellowing of the skin, passing dark colored urine, persistent nausea and sever stomach ache can all be symptoms of liver disease, perhaps caused by the shark cartilage itself.

It should also be noted that shark cartilage can interact with your existing medication - specifically

  • antibiotics
  • diuretics
  • diabetes medication
  • thyroid medication

DO NOT TAKE ANY FORM OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE WITHOUT CONSULTING YOUR DOCTOR.


One really certain side-effect of taking shark cartilage is that yet more sharks will die.

dead shark and her pups
dead shark and her pups | Source

Millions of sharks are being killed unnecessarily

Alternative medicine is fine when it uses a renewable source product, like plant enzymes.

If shark cartilage supplements really did cure cancer, it would become a licensed drug, with dosages safely controlled and regulated.

The fact is that the cancer researchers have looked very carefully at shark cartilage, and are still looking at it, but cannot find a way to make it an effective anti-cancer drug.

Meanwhile, millions of sharks are dying unnecessarily.

After 400 million years on Earth, we are at last wiping them out, to our grave cost.

Without sharks, these huge fish that are at the top of the oceanic food chain, who knows what would take over? This will affect the oceanic food chain very seriously, and quite possibly in a detrimental fashion to us.

Already we are seeing huge rises in the numbers of troublesome jellyfish.

It could destroy the fish industry as the seas become poisoned without those wonderful vacuum cleaners, the sharks.

In the last 10 years, shark populations in US waters have decreased by a massive 80%.

Shark cartilage companies are responsible for the deaths of 200,000 sharks every single month in US waters, and millions more across the world.

Sharks are like humans, slow to mature and slow to breed.

They are being killed in their millions for the US alternative health economy.

And the sad thing is, the treatment does not even work.

Don't be a part of this.

If you have cancer, please listen to your doctor.

Shark cartilage will not make you better. Please don't kill off the few sharks we have left on the planet.

Sharks will soon be as extinct as the dinosaurs

1 Dead hadrosaur Claosaurus and 2 Squalicorax sharks
1 Dead hadrosaur Claosaurus and 2 Squalicorax sharks | Source

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    • Stina Caxe profile image

      Cristina 4 years ago from Virginia

      This is very interesting and full of information i was not aware of!

    • sharkfacts profile image
      Author

      sharkfacts 4 years ago from UK

      It is horrible to know that millions of people are spending their hard-earned cash on shark cartilage when it doesn't even work. Even if they think it does, that will be the 'placebo effect' because it is proven to not work. Meanwhile, millions more sharks die for nothing.

    • Abbyfitz profile image

      Abbyfitz 4 years ago from Florida

      Wow. I never even heard of people using shark cartilage. You wrote a very interesting article and a great addition to the weekly topic.

    • sharkfacts profile image
      Author

      sharkfacts 4 years ago from UK

      Thanks! There are loads of shark cartilage products on Amazon and in health stores. These people make all kinds of claims about it, but it doesn't work for anything as far as I can see. Meanwhile, millions more sharks are dying...

    • WriteAngled profile image

      WriteAngled 4 years ago from Abertawe, Cymru

      This story follows a typical pattern. Some "entrepreneurs" pick up on a real scientific finding, in this case that there are anti-angiogenic substances in shark cartilage. They then exploit that one single piece of data to the full in order to make lots of money on dodgy products. Mass media pick up on these bizarre claims and hype them up. The fact that the medical and scientific literature contains evidence indicating that the products are ineffective, dating back to as long ago as 15 years, is quietly ignored.

    • sharkfacts profile image
      Author

      sharkfacts 4 years ago from UK

      I think when the product is from a renewable source, it doesn't much matter so much. Sharks are being fished to extinction. Between shark cartilage and chondroitin, another dubious substance from sharks that they put in health pills, sharks are being wiped out. Everyone, myself included, thought the Asian delicacy of shark fin's soup was causing it, but it isn't. These supplements are a $30+ million a year industry so someone is doing very nicely at huge expense to the environment and ecological balance of the seas.

    • profile image

      summerberrie 4 years ago

      Full of information to keep the public informed. I hope those who are seeking help for their Cancer will read this and check this 'cure' off their list and not be distracted by its empty promises. Voted up and shared.

    • sharkfacts profile image
      Author

      sharkfacts 4 years ago from UK

      I wish some of those desperate people would read this hub instead of buying useless shark cartilage pills. Their money would be far better spent on cancer research. Latest word is that there has been a huge breakthrough in genuine cancer treatment, using DNA analysis. Next step will be to bring the price of the therapy down until it is affordable to all.

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