Shark Cartilage: Uses and Possible Health Benefits
This article discusses the use of shark cartilage as a nutritional supplement and as an alternative treatment for cancer as well as arthritis.
Shark cartilage is a controversial health supplement derived from the cartilage found in the fins and elsewhere of sharks. It is believed by some to have various health benefits including fightig cancer and relieving arthritis symptoms, while others regard shark cartilage as a worthless placebo used to bilk gullible consumers. This article summarizes some of studies on the health benefits of shark cartilage as published in peer reviewed medical and scientific journals.
The goal of this article is to give an unbiased overview of the emerging research into the health benefits of shark cartilage, by presenting both the positive and negative findings of scientists working in this area.
Shark Cartilage for Cancer
A number of studies have examined the claim that shark cartilage can inhibit or cure cancer. The results of this research have been mixed.
- An Iranian study into the effects of shark cartilage on the immune system examined different components of shark cartilage and noted that it enhanced the effectiveness of Natural Killer cells, one of the body's defences against cancer cells. The authors stated that "There are evidences, that shark cartilage stimulates cellular and humoral immune responses, which makes it an anti-tumor and immunomodulator candidate." They concluded that the effect of shark cartilage in enhancing the immune system, "may lead to its future clinical applications as, immunotherapy of cancer, HIV, and augmentation of host immune system related immunodeficiency disorders." The results of their study were published in "Effect of sharkcartilage derived protein on the NK cells activity." Journal of Immunopharmacology Immunotoxicology. 2011 Sep;33(3):403-9. Epub 2010 Jul 29.
- A recent French study noted that "Both the antiangiogenic and antitumoral activity of shark cartilage extracts (SCE) have been demonstrated in animal models and clinical trials." In the present study shark cartilage components "showed antiangiogenic and antitumoral effects of SCE in three mice glioma models." In plain English this means that shark cartilage inhibited tumour growth and also inhibited the formation of new blood vessels without which cancer cells cannot get the nutrients they need to grow. Reference:
"Induction of the fibrinolytic system by cartilage extract mediates its antiangiogenic effect in mouse glioma." Microvascular Research. 2011 Jul;82(1):6-17. Epub 2011 Mar 13.
- A study of the use of shark cartilage in combination with chemotherapy by the University of Texas M.D. Cancer Center concluded that it did not increase patient survival and therefore "This study does not support the use of shark cartilage-derived products as therapy for lung cancer." Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2010 Jun 16;102(12):859-65. Epub 2010 May 26.
- A further study by Iranian researches noted that the inhibition of the growth of new blood vessels (antineogensesis) is one of the most promising areas of cancer research. Proteins isolated from shark cartilage were shown to inhibit the formation of new microcapillaries and blood vessels, suggesting that it holds promise in this area of study. See: Biosci Rep. 2008 Feb;28(1):15-21.
- A German study found that shark cartilage extract had no effect on bronchial carcinoma: Med Monatsschr Pharm. 2007 Sep;30(9):351.
- A Chinese study which isolated a component of shark cartilage found that that when tested in animals, shark cartilage had a "potent anti-angiogenic activity." Journal of Cancer Biology and Therapy. 2007 May;6(5):775-80. Epub 2007 Feb 12. Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, is essential to the growth of cancer tumors. It is thought by some researchers that if cancers can be prevented from forming new blood vessels they will starve and die or at least stop growing.
The use of shark cartilage has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of any condition, illness or disease. The information in this article should not be used as the basis of any medical or treatment decisions. Always consult a qualified medical doctor and follow their advice.
This article is not intended to cure, diagnose, treat or mitigate any disease, illness or condition. The information contained here in is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute advice. Links to other sites, including advertisements for shark cartilage, are for convenience only. The author does not endorse or recommend any outside site he links to.
Shark Cartilage for Arthritis
A number of natural and alternative health practitioners tout shark cartilage as being beneficial in the treatment of arthritis. Many arthritis sufferers are self-medicating using shark cartilage and other supplements such as glucosamine.
The possible health benefits of shark cartilage in the treatment or improvement of arthritis related conditions has been studied:
- A study into the effect of shark cartilage and other reputedly anti-inflammatory natural products on horses concluded that these may "may be useful in preventing inflammation associated with arthritis and degenerative joint disease in horses." See: American Journal of Veterinary Research. 2009 Jul;70(7):848-61.
- A Russian study using rabbits with infective allergic arthritis as test subjects found that shark cartilage resulted in improvement in the affected joints. Antibiot Khimioter. 2005;50(5-6):20-3.
Pros and Cons of Shark Cartilage
Emerging research suggests that compounds derived from Shark Cartilage may have cant-cancer effects and also be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis. A Phase III clinical trial is currently underway to test the effectiveness of Neovastat, which is a drug derived from shark cartilage.
Despite these initial promising results, many medical authors have described shark cartilage as worthless pseudoscience based on the mistaken belief that sharks do not get cancer (they do). The authors of one article warn that the use of shark cartilage has contributed to the decline of sharks populations throughout the world and has also diverted patients away from effective treatments.
In fairness, however, the decline in shark populations is due mainly to the Chinese who eat the fins as a delicacy. Hundreds of thousands of sharks are caught and their fins cut off just to supply a culinary delicacy. The finless sharks are then thrown back into the sea to die. However it is true that shark cartilage is definitely not suitable for vegetarians as it can only be obtained by killing the animal.