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Based on the belief that sharks don't get cancer, shark cartilage has been heavily marketed as a cure for cancer . While this justification is a myth (sharks do get cancer), shark cartilage has, in fact, shown some promise for cancer treatment. Shark cartilage (like other forms of cartilage) contains substances that tend to inhibit angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels). Since cancers must build new blood vessels to feed themselves, this effect might be beneficial. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies on special formulations of shark cartilage for the treatment of cancer are now underway. It has also been suggested that the anti-angiogenic properties of shark cartilage may make it helpful for psoriasis , but this hypothesis has not yet undergone proper study. 1 Shark cartilage also inhibits substances called matrix metalloproteases (MMPs). 2 These little-understood enzymes affect the "extracellular matrix," the framework of substances that lie between cells in the body. MMPs are thought to play a role in diseases of the cornea, gums, skin, blood vessels, and joints, as well as cancer and illnesses that involve excessive fibrous tissue. On this basis, shark cartilage has been proposed for a wide variety of medical conditions, from cataracts to scleroderma ; however, there are no meaningful studies as yet that can tell us whether it offers any benefit.
Cartilage in general has been proposed as a treatment for the common "wear and tear" type of arthritis known as osteoarthritis . The idea behind this is straightforward: Because osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints, and because cartilage is one of the elements that make up your joints, adding cartilage to the diet might help. This idea sounds a bit too simplistic to be believable, but it is the same principle behind the use of glucosamine and chondroitin (specific substances found in the joints) for osteoarthritis. Since well designed studies have found those treatments effective, perhaps cartilage itself will ultimately be proven to work. However, such studies of cartilage have not yet been performed.
Finally, highly preliminary studies hint that cartilage may help heal minor wounds . 3
- Dupont E, Savard PE, Jourdain C, Juneau C, Thibodeau A, Ross N, Marenus K, Maes DH, Pelletier G, Sauder DN. Antiangiogenic properties of a novel shark cartilage extract: potential role in the treatment of psoriasis. J Cutan Med Surg. 2(3):146-52.
- Wojtowicz-Praga S. Clinical potential of matrix metalloprotease inhibitors. Drugs R D (New Zealand). 1999;1:117-129.
- PRUDDEN JF, NISHIHARA G, BAKER L. The acceleration of wound healing with cartilage. I. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 105(3):283-6.