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Alternative Medicine: Is Shark Cartilage Effective?

separator For more than 30 years, there have been people who believe that cartilage—from sharks and sometimes from cows—can be an effective treatment for cancer. These products are sold in the United States as dietary supplements, so they’re not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has not approved cartilage as a treatment for cancer. 

Those who believe in the use of cartilage as a cancer treatment say that it works in three ways: that it kills cancer cells, stimulates the immune system and blocks the formation of new blood vessels. Blocking formation of new blood vessels is a process called angiogenesis. Tumors need blood and oxygen for continued growth. 

Conducting large clinical trials on shark cartilage is the only way to find out whether it’s effective as a cancer treatment. One trial has been conducted on patients who had kidney cancer, but there has not been a full report of results issued yet. Early information indicates that shark cartilage did not have any effects on overall survival in that study, but there was a small sub-group of healthier patients who may have benefited. Other trials on shark cartilage are currently underway. 

One of the more common shark cartilage medications is called AE-941/Neovastat. This is considered a “pharmaceutical agent under development,” so it’s not available to the public. It’s currently being used in clinical trials. 

Common side effects and risks
Shark cartilage is usually taken by mouth in powder or tablet form. Side effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation

The blood-vessel-growth-inhibiting effects of shark cartilage can be dangerous for:

  • People who are still growing and need new blood vessel development
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are recovering from surgery
  • People who have heart problems

Additionally, because shark cartilage contains a lot of calcium, people who have kidney problems should be cautious about taking this supplement. 

Talk to your doctor before trying shark cartilage
If you’re interested in trying shark cartilage as an alternative treatment to cancer, it’s extremely important to talk to your doctor about it, because shark cartilage may be dangerous when combined with other medications.

The National Cancer Institute, Cartilage (Bovine and Shark) PDQ; K. Pelletier, The Best Alternative Medicine, Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, 2000
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