The Health Benefits of Shark Cartilage

Some use the supplement to fight cancer or treat other diseases

Shark
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Shark cartilage is a substance sourced from the skeletons of sharks. Available in dietary supplement form, shark cartilage is said to offer a number of health benefits. Proponents often claim that shark cartilage can fight cancer.

Shark cartilage contains several compounds purported to improve health, including proteins known as proteoglycans and glycoproteins. It also contains collagen, which is often used in supplement form to improve skin.

Health Benefits

In alternative medicine, shark cartilage is said to help with the following health problems:

Preliminary studies suggest that shark cartilage may have some health benefits. However, traditional and natural medicine sources note that there is very limited evidence to support the use of shark cartilage for these conditions. Research is ongoing.

Here's a glimpse at some key study findings on shark cartilage thus far.

Cancer

Proponents suggest that shark cartilage can fight cancer by slowing or stopping the growth of blood vessels that tumors need to thrive.

So far, most of the studies showing anti-cancer benefits from shark cartilage have been conducted on animals and human cells and more research is needed. One such study indicated that shark cartilage may act as an anti-angiogenic agent (a type of substance that stalls the growth of new blood vessels) and, in turn, inhibit the development of cancerous tumors.

Despite these preliminary findings, few clinical trials have demonstrated that shark cartilage may provide anti-cancer benefits. In a 2005 study published in the journal Cancer, researchers found that shark cartilage failed to improve survival in people with advanced cancer. For the study, 83 advanced-cancer patients were given either shark cartilage or a placebo in combination with standard care. Researchers found no difference in survival between the two groups. Shark cartilage also appeared to have no effect on quality of life.

Psoriasis

There's some evidence that shark cartilage shows promise in the treatment of psoriasis, however. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2002 found that AE-941 (a product containing shark cartilage extract) may help control psoriasis symptoms.

The study involved 49 patients with psoriasis, each of whom received varying doses of AE-941 for 12 weeks. Results revealed that those given higher doses of AE-941 experienced significant improvements in several symptoms of psoriasis, including itching.

Possible Side Effects

Shark cartilage may trigger a number of adverse effects, including nausea, indigestion, fatigue, fever, dizziness, constipation, and low blood pressure. There's also some concern that shark cartilage may affect liver function and impair recovery from surgery.

Recently, it was discovered that shark cartilage may contain high levels of a compound called beta-methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA, which has been linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS).

Special Considerations

Since shark cartilage may increase your calcium levels, it should be avoided by people with abnormally high blood levels of calcium (a condition known as hypercalcemia).

In addition, people with seafood allergies may experience allergic reactions when consuming shark cartilage.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals.

The safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

Environmental advocates say that the use of shark cartilage contributes to declines in shark populations throughout the world.

Dosage and Preparation

You'll often see shark cartilage sold in vitamin and health stores or online. The supplement usually comes in tablet or capsule form with the most common dose being 750 milligrams.

However, there is not enough scientific evidence to determine the correct dose of shark cartilage. In addition, the right dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and other medical conditions.

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend shark cartilage as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that treating a chronic condition or major disease (such as cancer) with shark cartilage and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences. If you're considering using shark cartilage for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

What to Look For

Since shark cartilage supplements are sourced from the animals themselves, it is important to be sure that it was sustainably harvested. Look for such an indication on the product label or the manufacturer's website, or call and ask about the sustainability practices of a company's suppliers if needed.

In terms of what else is in the supplements, the Supplement Facts label on a shark cartilage product lists the active ingredients per serving, as well as any added ingredients such as flavorings, binders, or fillers. This is particularly important to check if you are allergic to certain ingredients.

Because supplements are largely unregulated, it is also good to look for a seal of approval from a third-party quality testing organization such as ConsumerLab that can verify the product was manufactured safely and the product contains the ingredients listed without harmful contamination.

Other Questions

What are some alternatives to shark cartilage in the fight against cancer?

To boost your defense against cancer, it's important to avoid smoking, limit your alcohol intake, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight. There's also some evidence that people with a diet high in antioxidants may have a lower risk for cancer. In addition, maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D might help protect against some forms of cancer.

What are some alternatives for psoriasis?

If you're seeking a natural remedy for psoriasis, research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, aloe vera, and capsaicin cream may alleviate psoriasis symptoms.

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