Shark Cartilage

Background Information

Sharks as a species are known for being highly resistant to infections, for possessing remarkable wound-healing abilities, and for being virtually immune to cancer, even when exposed to highly polluted environments.  The source of these qualities has been identified as the mixture of proteins and other compounds which make up the shark's internal skeletal system.  That system consists entirely of cartilage, and unlike all other types of body tissue, it contains no blood vessels.   Instead, it receives its oxygen and nutrients directly from surrounding tissues and fluids.  All cartilage is characterized to some extent by proteins which actively prevent the creation of new blood vessels (a growth process called angiogenesis), but shark cartilage has been shown to contain special anti-angiogenesis factors.

Angiogenesis, the creation of new blood and lymph vessels, is important during our early years of rapid growth, but in adulthood, or under the wrong circumstances, it is highly damaging to health.  A good example of this is diabetic retinopathy, which consists of the unwanted growth of small blood vessels across the retina and into portions of the eye which should consist of clear fluids.  The result is damaged vision and, eventually, blindness.  Shark cartilage has proven useful in controlling diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and venous occlusion resulting from excessive vascularization.  A similar unnatural proliferation of blood vessels marks many forms of arthritis and leads to the calcification of the cartilage surrounding affected joints.  Other diseases which are characterized by improper angiogenesis include psoriasis, eczema, some gastrointestinal inflammations and many cancers.

Shark cartilage is made up of a web of macro-protein fibres which include six or seven proteins of health significance, mucopolysaccharides and glycosamenoglycans.  Aside from various proteins contained in the cartilage, the particular importance are the mucopolysaccharides for their role in aiding the production of mucilaginous and lubricating fluids in the body, and for their participation in immune stimulation and other functions.

Early studies of cartilage focused on calf shoulder blade cartilage and its ability to inhibit blood vessel growth in solid tumors.  However, calves contain only 0.6% cartilage by weight, whereas sharks have ten times the weight of calves and of that, some 6% is cartilage.  Moreover, shark cartilage is 1,000 times more potent than calf cartilage as an anti-angiogenesis agent!

An added plus for shark cartilage is the fact that it, like many other forms of cartilage, is a food and not a drug.  Indeed, it is eaten in many parts of the world as shark fin soup.

Specific Health Benefits

Arthritis

The many different subcategories of arthritis afflict an estimated 15% of the world's population.  The two primary categories of this ailment ar rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

In rheumatoid arthritis the joints of the fingers, wrists, feet, ankles and often the hips and shoulders are usually affected by pain, inflammation and restriction of motion.  Periods of remission are common, and on occasion the disease will resolve itself spontaneously.  However, in as much as human cartilage has close the the slowest rate of turnover of any tissue in the body, total natural regression is not typical of rheumatoid damage.  Treatment with cartilage supplements may help.  One study using the less active bovine cartilage administered for between ten and thirty-five days showed very good results.

Shark cartilage's ability to both relieve inflammation and inhibit new vascularization again is important in the treatment of the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, which is sometimes related to overuse of the joints of the hips, knees and thumbs.    The inflammation results from an autoimmune response to joint cartilage at sites of high stress.  Moreover, sustained inflammation tends to encourage unnatural capillary growth into the cartilage, which both weakens and calcifies it.  A five year doubleblind study by Dr. V. Rejholec of Charles University in the Czech Republic demonstrated not only the pain and inflammation were dramatically reduced by the cartilage, but also that the joint degeneration in cartilage-takers was only 37% of that of controls.

Cancer

Cancer cells are abnormal cells undergoing uncontrolled growth.  This growth requires a constant flow of nutrients to these cells and the removal of their waste products.  To service these demands, the cancer depends upon the constant expansion and replacement of a blood vessel network.  In other words, the cancer itself causes the body to build new blood vessels to supply it with nutrients and remove wastes.    Dr. Judith Folkman and her research team at Children's Hospital in Boston several years ago showed that without access to a constantly expanded and replaced supply of blood, cancerous tissues stop growing as soon as the tumors have reached a size of 1 or 2 cubic millimeters.  Shark cartilage repeatedly has demonstrated to inhibit unwanted vascularization.  The antiangiogenesis achieved by shark cartilage against tumors appears unrelated to any sort of direct toxic action against the abnormal cells by elements of the cartilage.  Inteed, no toxicity has been reported in any of the studies conducted using shark cartilage.

The complex carbohydrates in shark cartilage called mucopolysaccharides give the cartilage immuno-regulatory properties, and also account for most of its anti-inflammatory effects.  The tumor control qualities of shark cartilage, however, are quite complex.    They may be due to a combination of all three of the cartilage's major benefits, that is antiangiogenesis, anti-inflammatory properties and immune stimulation.

On November 21, 1991 Dr. Robert Gallo, Chief of the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology at the National Cancer Institute, invited Dr. William Lane, PhD, one of the primary researchers on shark cartilage and its benefits, to speak at the NCI.  Dr. Lane's presentation was highly praised at the time.  Subsequently, Dr. Gallo joined with scientists from Daiichi Pharmaceutical Co. of Japan in attempts to find synthetic alternatives to shark cartilage.  No suggestion has ever been made that shark cartilage does not work, only that it is not patenable because it is a natural product.

Sport and Excercise - Related Injuries

Millions of Americans regularly experience mild inflammation of the joints and muscles with accompanying aches and pains.  The anti-inflammatory properties of shark cartilage and its non-toxicity make it a therapy of choice fo minor injuries and mild excercise-induced discomfort.

Skin Diseases and Other Inflammatory Conditions

Psoriasis is a common skin disease, affecting 1-2% of the population, in which the abnormal capillary growth of the dermis causes an excessively rapid turnover of skin cells leading to itching, scaling and the appearance of raised red patches.  An autoimmune reaction is suspected of being involved.  The use of shark cartilage therapy in one study resulted in the total remission of psoriatic lesions in half the subjects for a period of several months, and all but one of the therty-six individuals involved experienced at least good results.  In several studies, patients reported similar improvements in other inflammatory diseases, such as eczema, poison oak and ivy, ulcerative colitis, gastroenteritis, and hemorrhoids, to name a few.

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