Shark cartilage is cartilage that is extracted from the fins and heads of sharks. Many animals and humans too, have this connective tissue in their skeletal system, which is known as cartilage.
The skeletons of sharks are almost entirely made up of cartilage. Calcium salts, glycoproteins, protein and proteoglycans are the main compounds shark cartilage contains. The cartilage of a shark is dried and powdered to prepare a dietary supplement that is promoted as an alternative to traditional cancer treatment. At the same time, studies for the use of shark cartilage along with standard therapies are also being carried out.
Shark cartilage is also known as Carticin, while BeneFin, Cartilade and Neovastat are some of the names of popular branded supplements containing shark cartilage.
A majority of dietary supplements containing shark cartilage are available in the form of pills or powders. The effectiveness, purity and safety of the ingredients of a majority of these supplements have not been thoroughly tested. Based on the scientific evidence that is available, claims regarding the effectiveness of supplements containing shark cartilage for the treatment of cancer, osteoporosis or other diseases are not supported.
There is no proof of the supposed positive effects of shark cartilage in humans. However, studies conducted on animals showed that the new blood vessels were slowed down from growing by some of the components in shark cartilage. Currently, further clinical trials of these supplements and of purified cartilage extract from sharks are being constantly carried out.
It is believed by supporters the growth of cancer can be slowed down or stopped through shark cartilage or cartilage from animals like cows. Supporters claim that proteins contained in shark cartilage stop the process of the development of blood vessels, which is known as angiogenesis. To grow and survive, a network of blood vessels is needed by tumors, so tumors can be caused to disappear or shrink is their blood supply is cut off, which will starve them of nutrients. It is also claimed by supporters that other diseases such as arthritis, intestinal inflammation, macular degeneration, psoriasis and osteoporosis can be treated with the help of shark cartilage.
Shark cartilage supplements are available in the form of capsules or pills, liquid extracts or a powder, all of which are taken orally. However, shark cartilage has a strong fishy smell and taste, so some people find it difficult to take supplements containing shark cartilage orally.
At times, shark cartilage is also used as an enema too, but there is quite a variation in the dose and length of treatment. Large doses up to one cup a day is recommended by a majority of manufacturers. Shark cartilage is also used to make Chondroitin, which is a supplement used for the treatment of arthritis.
A shark cartilage liquid extract (AE-941) by the name of Neovastat is also available. The FDA United States Food and Drug Administration has been regulated the extract as a new investigational drug.
In the United States, shark cartilage is widely sold as a dietary supplement. Unlike drugs, the effectiveness or safety of supplements does not have to be proven to the FDA, as long as it is not directly claimed that they are effective in curing, preventing or treating a disease. The same goes for shark cartilage supplements too.
Consuming shark cartilage is overall safe because it is not believed to be toxic. However, some people have reported experiencing dizziness, fatigue, fever, indigestion and nausea after using shark cartilage dietary supplements. Liver function can be affected by shark cartilage, so people suffering from a liver disease are recommended not to take supplements containing shark cartilage. Even the healing process after surgery can be slowed down by it, so people using it are advised to discontinue using it if they are about to undergo surgery. Giving shark cartilage supplements to children is also not advised. Even people suffering from seafood allergies are advised to avoid shark cartilage too.
Until now, the evidence, whether it is appropriate to rely entirely on shark cartilage as a treatment for cancer is still inconclusive. Nonetheless, supplements containing shark cartilage are promoted as an alternative to traditional cancer treatments and can even be combined with them to increase the effectiveness of the treatment.