Shark Cartilage

Research dating back to the 1980s sparked interest in this supplement's greatest claim to fame: its' supposed ability to battle cancer. Observing that sharks rarely get cancer, investigators began studying various substances from sharks and noted that shark cartilage blocks the growth of new blood vessels.

Because blood vessel growth is essential for tumors, providing them with an oxygen-rich blood supply that allows them to survive and grow, the researchers speculated that the cartilage might fight cancer. (Cancer therapies that inhibit blood vessel growth recently became headline news when two drugs that shrink tumors - called angiostatin and endostatin - were isolated in the lab)

Other theories have been advanced for shark cartilage's supposed anti-cancer effects, and studies in test tubes and animals suggest that it may have some cancer-fighting benefits. But what works in the test tube or in animals is often a far cry from what works in people: Studies have generally failed to show any significant benefits to people with cancer, even when shark cartilage was given in very high doses. In fact, a leading maker of shark cartilage supplements recently admitted that the substance is "probably not effective" for cancer.

Additional benefits

Shark cartilage may have anti-inflammatory properties, however, that make it useful for treating diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and the skin ailment psoriasis. In one study, animals given a shark cartilage extract experienced less pain and inflammation from substances that irritate the skin.

Shark cartilage may also ease symptoms of osteoarthritis by facilitating the delivery of cartilage-building nutrients to the joints, thereby stimulating cartilage repair while reducing cartilage breakdown. (Most doctors, however, believe there are more effective remedies for this purpose, such as glucosamine.) Because of its possible immune-boosting effects, the supplement has also been proposed as a treatment for cold sores and other herpes infections.

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