Shark Cartilage

Q: What is in shark cartilage?

A: Shark cartilage is an all-natural, whole food source of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfates, and angiogenesis-inhibiting proteins, among other compounds.

Q: What are the beneficial effects of shark cartilage?

A: Shark cartilage can help to alleviate and prevent the inflammation and pain of arthritis and joint ailments/injuries, as well as some skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

Q: Can shark cartilage transmit BSE (“mad cow”) disease? 

A: NO. Shark cartilage is a completely safe nutrient for use with pets and people without any fear of contracting mad cow disease.

Q: How does shark cartilage work?

A: Shark cartilage is both an all-natural anti-inflammatory agent and an angiogenesis inhibitor. As an angiogenesis inhibitor, shark cartilage prevents the formation of new unwanted, unnatural and unneeded blood vessels. Under normal conditions, the cartilage in joints is avascular (without blood vessels). With normal wear and tear, injury, hip dysplasia, etc. cartilage in joints can develop an unnatural blood supply. This new blood supply allows for the calcification of the joint cartilage — the formation of new bone. This angiogenesis and calcification of the joint cartilage leads to the stiffening of the joints. Shark cartilage controls this unnatural blood supply, thereby allowing the glucosamines and chondroitin sulfates to more effectively do their job of restoring the flexibility and integrity back to the joint cartilage.

“If glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are the pumps on a leaking or sinking boat then it is the angiogenesis-inhibiting proteins that work to stop the leaks. It makes no sense to just pump without trying to stop the leaks.”

Q: How does shark cartilage compare to bovine cartilage? 

A: Like shark cartilage, bovine cartilage is high in glycosaminoglycans that can help the body repair damaged joints. However, shark cartilage was found to be 1,000 times more effective in preventing new blood vessel growth. Therefore, shark cartilage has now replaced bovine cartilage as the supplement of choice by many veterinarians and doctors, particularly, with the public concerns of the transmission of BSE or mad-cow disease through beef by-products.

Q: Are there any side effects?

A: No, there are no side effects associated with the use of shark cartilage. However, because of the angiogenesis inhibiting properties we do express caution and suggest discontinuance of shark cartilage immediately before and during pregnancy. As an angiogenesis inhibitor shark cartilage may cut off the blood supply to the placenta.

For additional information about shark cartilage please click for articles and research or click here for an excerpt from The Arthritis Solution for Dogs by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.

Shark Cartilage Brings Arthritis Relief to Dogs

SOURCES-I. William Lane, Ph.D., and Linda Comac, Sharks Still Don’t Get Cancer (Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group, 1996). Nina Anderson et al., Super Nutrition for Animals (Birds Too!) (1996), Safe Goods, East Canaan, CT.

Veterinarians are getting wind of a new nontoxic and effective way to help dogs and cats with arthritis. It’s called shark cartilage, a product widely used by alternative medicine practitioners for cancer in humans. Ben B. Dow, D.V.M., of Putney, Vermont, has used shark cartilage successfully for several of his animal patients.

One case involved a Labrador retriever, 9, named Matthias, who suffered from severe arthritis in his legs and vertebrae. Matthias had been under Dr. Dow’s care for four years, during which time he had tried several standard steroidal drugs (azium, flucort, prednisone, and dexasone) to reduce swelling and pain, but they hadn’t helped. This shouldn’t be surprising because conventional anti-inflammatory drugs try to block the inflammation in the joints without actually treating the main problem.

There are several forms of arthritis (for instance, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis), but all involve an inflammation of the joints. Cartilage and the synovial membranes work to cushion any impact on the joints, but if these become eroded or soft, then inflammation, accompanied by sometimes severe and chronic pain, is the result. This condition has a variety of causes, including infections, metabolic disturbances, and constitutional imbalances. In animals, nutritional deficiencies are the most likely cause of arthritis. Matthias became so inactive and moved with such difficulty (the inflamed vertebrae produced a “distinct arch” in his back) that the owners asked Dr. Dow to put the dog down. Instead, he decided to try shark cartilage, a natural substance not generally known in conventional veterinary practice. Dr. Dow gave the dog shark cartilage supplements at the rate of four capsules, three times daily. Shark cartilage provides the body with the nutrients (especially calcium) necessary to repair its own cartilage and reverse deterioration of the joints.

Studies have shown that shark cartilage contains proteins, mucopolysaccharides (which contribute to the formation of joint fluids), calcium, and other ingredients that inhibit the growth of new blood vessels in the joints (which leads to calcification) and promote healing of already damaged joint tissues. After three weeks, the owners called Dr. Dow to report a dramatic improvement in Matthias’ condition. The formerly arthritic dog was moving around more, had a better appetite, and the arch in his back was gone. Even better, Matthias was now able to jump into the back of the owner’s pickup truck. Dr. Dow subsequently reduced Matthias’ intake to a maintenance dose of two capsules, twice daily. 

More than a year later, the owners reported that Matthias was completely healed, “behaving like a puppy.” As Dr. Dow saw it, “the use of shark cartilage was the last resort and has saved this pet for now.”

A second case involved a 14-year-old female Queensland Blue Heeler. Like Matthias, Dora had severe arthritis in her leg joints and had been given several standard steroidal drugs without any effect. Dora was in such discomfort that the owners were, as with Matthias’ owner, ready to have their dog put to sleep. Dr. Dow began giving her shark cartilage at a dosage of three capsules, three times daily. After one month, the owners reported to Dr. Dow that Dora had become more active again, chasing geese, in fact, and had started going on long walks with the owner again. For some time prior to the treatment, she had been unable to do either activity. The owner was delighted that there was no need to put Dora to sleep. “I have been a practicing veterinarian for about 25 years, and this is the first time a product has appeared that produces such significant results in arthritic dogs and without the side effects which often accompany drug therapy,” comments Dr. Dow. 

A nutritional supplement such as shark cartilage, which promotes the body’s own healing processes, may not show an immediate effect and may require two to four weeks before improvement is noticeable. Before starting your pet on any new therapy, it’s advisable to consult your veterinarian, particularly if your pet is pregnant or lactating, suffers from any heart condition, is recovering from surgery, or has any other health condition which might be affected by supplementation.

The following is quoted from Dr. Messonier’s book The Arthritis Solution for Dogs in “The Natural Vet Series” of books published by Prima Pet.

Shark Cartilage-

Researchers have reported a link between blood vessel growth and the development of arthritis. In the joint fluid of arthritic pets, there is an increasing amount of a chemical called endothelial cell-stimulating angiogenic factor. This chemical encourages growth of new blood vessels in the arthritic joint. It is theorized that by inhibiting new blood vessel growth, further degeneration of cartilage might be prevented.

In the laboratory, shark cartilage has been shown to contain chemicals that inhibit blood vessel formation. Because arthritis is an inflammatory condition, and inflammation requires blood vessels, it has been suggested that shark cartilage can benefit arthritic pets by inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels. And in fact, research has shown this to be the case. In studies in both people and in dogs, significant improvement is seen in patients suffering from arthritis. Arthritic pets and people taking shark cartilage supplements often experience increased mobility and decreased pain.

In one study, 8 of 10 dogs showed improvement when treated at a dosage of 750 mg per 5 kg of body weight for 3 weeks. Improvement was defined a no continuing lameness, lack of swelling and pain, and improved movement. When treatment was temporarily discontinued, pain and lameness returned…..

As a result of studies such as this one, many veterinarians feel it prudent to prescribe shark cartilage, as the supplement can be beneficial in some pets with arthritis and can substitute for therapy with medications liks NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that have potential side effects.”

In comparison to bovine cartilage, Dr. Messonnier points out:

“Like shark cartilage, bovine cartilage is high in glycosaminoglycans that can help the body repair damaged joints. Since shark cartilage was found to be 1,000 times more effective in preventing new blood vessel growth, it has replaced bovince cartilage as a supplement for many doctors.”

Shark Cartilage Research with Dogs:

Jacques Rauis DVM University of Liege 1991 (excerpt)

Dr. Rauis’s first study was conducted with ten dogs, each whom suffered from severe lameness. A dried 100% pure shark cartilage (Cartilade) was used as treatment for secondary osteoarthritis. Each dog was given shark cartilage with their food daily. No other drug, food supplement or treatment was given during the test period. The dogs were evaluated according to the following six parameters:

1. Local swelling; pain.

2. Atrophy of muscles (wasting of regional muscles).

3. Joint crepitation (the rubbing sound characteristic of osteoarthritis).

4. Lameness before action (difficulty walking or running after several hours of immobility).

5. Lameness after action (difficulty walking or running after a half-hour exercise but able to get over an obstacle not previously overcome).

6. Movement over obstacle (difficulty getting over an obstacle).

Dr. Rauis quickly found dramatic decreases in the signs of the disease. The animal’s lameness disappeared, and their capacity for getting around obstacles improved tremendously. Swelling, pain and immobilization were negligible. In all cases, when the shark cartilage was discontinued the dogs reverted in large part to their original pained state within fifteen days. Dr. Rauis’s observation was that the main effect seemed to against the local swelling. In addition, he felt the effect on the functional signs was “also impressive”. His summation: “Shark cartilage appears effective and safe to administer in the treatment of canine osteoarthritis.” The owners reported that their pets were more alert, much more alive, very happy, and able to climb stairs alone.

Neovastat is derived from the cartilage of the dogfish shark.

By Charlene Laino


March 2001

NEW ORLEANS, March 26 – Patients with advanced kidney cancer given an extract of shark cartilage lived twice as long as would be expected if they hadn’t taken the fishy concoction, a small pilot study shows. And three patients – all of whom failed to respond to all standard cancer treatments and probably would have died within eight months – are still alive 31 months after treatment began, researchers said.

THE EXTRACT, a product made from the cartilage of the common dogfish shark that is prepared differently than the shark cartilage pills sold in some natural food stores and over the Internet, is also showing promise in patients with advanced lung and blood cell cancers, said principal investigator Dr. Gerald Batist, a cancer doctor at McGill University in Montreal. Its anti-cancer fighting properties: four chemicals that are what scientists called anti-angiogenesis factors – substances that literally starve the lifelines of tumors, he said. The product, known as Neovastat, is among the most promising entries into the fashionable field of anti-angiogenesis agents, said Dr. William Li, clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard and head of the non-profit Angiogenesis Foundation in Cambridge, Mass. The development of anti-angiogenesis drugs capped a 30-year research process that began when Dr. Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School had the hypothesis in the 1970s that tumors cannot grow or spread without a steady blood supply to feed them. By developing drugs that block the formation of new vessels, Folkman reasoned, you would eliminate the flow of blood to tumors, much like chopping a plant off at its roots. And without nutrients, tumors, like plants, would be prevented from growing much bigger than a pinhead.

In the past few years, dozen of anti-angiogenesis drugs have entered clinical trials, although none has yet been approved for use as an anti-cancer agent in the United States. But Pierre Falardeau, vice president of scientific affairs at Aeterna, which manufactures the shark cartilage extract, said if all goes as planned, the drug could be available by prescription within a year or two. The drug is “extremely interesting and promising,” said Li, a former student of Folkman’s. “This the first anti-angiogenesis agent to show a statistically significant – that is, not due to chance – increase in survival in a group of critically ill patients.” Extending survival is the Holy Grail of this class of drugs, Li explained. “Of the more than 50 agents in clinical trials, Neovastat is among the elite dozen that have made it to the final stages of human testing and the first to actually show improved survival.” Neovastat is also noteworthy for its triple mode of action against the growth of new blood vessels to feed a tumor, he said. The drug blocks a growth factor that signals tumor cells to recruit new blood vessels, inhibits an enzyme needed for cancer cells to invade new tissue, and stimulates cancer cell death, according to Li.

CARTILAGE THE KEY Shark cartilage was originally studied as it was thought that sharks don’t develop cancer and thus must contain anti-cancer agents. Ironically, even though it’s since been shown that sharks do develop cancer after all, cartilage was found to be a rich source of anti-angiogenesis factors, Falardeau said.

The cartilage can be from any species – chickens, fish, whatever,” he said. “But sharks are a good source because they are abundant in waters worldwide and widely fished for their meat, with the cartilage normally discarded.” The spines of about 100 dogfish sharks are needed to treat one cancer patient for one year, according to Falardeau. The cartilage is crushed up and purified into a liquid that is then frozen. The patient thaws the pint-sized drink – described as “fishy” tasting – before drinking it twice a day. In preparing Neovastat, the researchers use a patented biochemical method to treat the cartilage in such a way that it releases the anti-angiogenesis factors.


The study, presented here Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, enrolled 22 patients with advanced kidney cancer that had spread to other parts of the body and could not be helped by any conventional therapy. Surgery to remove the kidney had failed to stop the cancer from spreading and neither radiation nor chemotherapy successfully killed off remaining cancer cells.

Eight patients treated with a low dose of the drug lived an average of 7.1 months, compared to 16.3 months for 14 patients receiving a higher dose. For a patient with this advanced cancer who does not respond to standard treatments, the expected survival time is approximately eight months, Li said. On the basis of the results, all surviving patients have since been given the higher dose: Three are still alive, including one who had developed a tumor on her head that completely disappeared. No significant side effects were observed in the patients. The trial was funded by Aeterna. The National Cancer Institute found the results promising enough that it is funding a larger study in patients with lung cancer, Falardeau said. Trials are also underway in patients with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood.

The following is quoted from Dr. Messonier’s book The Arthritis Solution for Dogs in “The Natural Vet Series” of books published by Prima Pet.

Shark Cartilage

Researchers have reported a link between blood vessel growth and the development of arthritis. In the joint fluid of arthritic pets, there is an increasing amount of a chemical called endothelial cell-stimulating angiogenic factor. This chemical encourages growth of new blood vessels in the arthritic joint. It is theorized that by inhibiting new blood vessel growth, further degeneration of cartilage might be prevented.

In the laboratory, shark cartilage has been shown to contain chemicals that inhibit blood vessel formation. Because arthritis is an inflammatory condition, and inflammation requires blood vessels, it has been suggested that shark cartilage can benefit arthritic pets by inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels. And in fact, research has shown this to be the case. In studies in both people and in dogs, significant improvement is seen in patients suffering from arthritis. Arthritic pets and people taking shark cartilage supplements often experience increased mobility and decreased pain.

In one study, 8 of 10 dogs showed improvement when treated at a dosage of 750 mg per 5 kg of body weight for 3 weeks. Improvement was defined a no continuing lameness, lack of swelling and pain, and improved movement. When treatment was temporarily discontinued, pain and lameness returned.

….As a result of studies such as this one, many veterinarians feel it prudent to prescribe shark cartilage, as the supplement can be beneficial in some pets with arthritis and can substitute for therapy with medications liks NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that have potential side effects.

In comparison to bovine cartilage, Dr. Messonnier points out:

“Like shark cartilage, bovine cartilage is high in glycosaminoglycans that can help the body repair damaged joints. Since shark cartilage was found to be 1,000 times more effective in preventing new blood vessel growth, it has replaced bovince cartilage as a supplement for many doctors.”

Researchers Study Effect Of Shark Cartilage On Tumors

Researchers Think Cartilage Might Block Blood Flow To Tumors

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Researchers are looking into shark cartilage as a way to stop the blood supply to cancerous growths in the human body.

Doctors know cancer cells create their own blood supply as they grow and spread throughout the body. But because cartilage has no blood vessels, researchers believe it contains an agent that prevents blood vessel growth, KMBC’s Kelly Eckerman reported.

The study is trying to find out if shark cartilage can disrupt the blood supply to tumors — a process called anti-angiogenesis.

Patsy Jones was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer three years ago. She signed up for a clinical trial that is studying the effects of liquid shark cartilage on tumors. Jones and other study participants take either liquid shark cartilage or a placebo twice daily. She said that despite the fishy smell, she hasn’t missed a dose.

“I’m very devoted to it. I take it first thing in the morning and between 7 and 8 at night,” she said. “I hope this will extend my life. I realize it’s not going to cure me, but it does extend your life from all that I’ve read about it.”

Eckerman reported that researchers hope even if they cannot eliminate tumors, a combination therapy with chemo and radiation — along with the shark cartilage treatment — could keep tumors at bay for long periods of time.

Shark Cartilage: Anticancer Agent or Hype?

US Pharmacist

June 1998

Shark Cartilage: Anticancer Agent or Hype?

Stephen J. Cutler, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Amy S. Henson, Pharm.D. (cand.) Selena S. Ready, Pharm.D. (cand.), Natural Products Discovery Group, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, Mercer University Atlanta, GA

The ability of an unidentified agent in shark cartilage to inhibit angiogenesis has consumers willing to test its anticancer potential.

Shark cartilage has received considerable attention among consumers and healthcare professionals for its cancer-fighting potential. A recent study indicated that 25,000 people a year buy shark cartilage in the form of pills and powders at health-food stores. The substances popularity is due in part to the belief that a protein found in the cartilage has the ability to inhibit angiogenesis, which is needed to provide nutrients for tumor growth and cancer metastasis. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 500,000 lives each year. Therefore, many consumers are willing to explore alternatives, such as shark cartilage, in order to decrease their chances of developing this disease.

Many healthcare professionals are skeptical about shark cartilage. They are concerned that cancer patients will stop complying with traditional treatment in favor of such alternative treatments — the efficacy of which is less well-substantiated. Those ministering to cancer patients need to be aware of the relevant facts regarding shark cartilage and its role in cancer prevention and therapy. By educating themselves, healthcare providers can help patients make an informed decision about choosing shark cartilage therapy.

Neoplasms Rare in Sharks

The cancer rate for sharks is estimated to be one in one million or less. This rarity of neoplasms in these animals has led researchers to ask whether sharks contain a biochemical that deters the development of many common types of cancer.

Sharks are among the most primitive of living vertebrates, seemingly untouched by the forces of evolution. They have survived largely unchanged for millions of years. Unlike humans, their skeletal structure is composed entirely of cartilage, which constitutes 6% – 8% of their gross weight. This abundance of cartilage may explain why cancer in sharks is rare compared to cancer in other fish species. Cartilage contains a substance that strongly inhibits the growth of new blood vessels toward solid tumors. Mammals have less inhibiting factor due to a lower amount of cartilage (~1%) per body weight.

Angiogenesis and Tumor Growth

Solid tumors may arise for any number of reasons. Tumor growth rates and metastasis are unique, depending on the type and location of cancer. The physiology and pathology associated with the development of malignant tumors is less of a mystery. Malignant tumors continue to grow new blood vessels in order to obtain oxygen and nutrients for growth. In the early 1970s, tumors were found to secrete tumor angiogenesis factor (TAF), which stimulates existing blood vessels to branch and grow. 

Once the blood supply of normal organs is established, it is relatively stable, but the growth and development of a tumor’s blood supply are constantly changing to meet the tumor’s needs. As a result, inhibiting the recruitment of new vessels may diminish tumor growth and development.

The process of tumor metastasis is complex and may be broken down into a number of associated steps. First, there is angiogenesis, which involves the formation of a blood supply. At this stage, the endothelial cells at the tip of the vessels elongate toward the tumor. This is followed by a second phase, wherein the endothelial cells are initiated to proliferate. This proliferation expands in the direction of the tumor until the tumor is reached. These points in the initiation stage are vulnerable to certain types of antineoplastic agents.

In 1973, Judah Folkman and colleagues at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston implanted a few cancer cells in the cornea of rabbits’ eyes and observed new vascularization in as little as seven days. Upon implantation of cartilage (which is not normally vascularized) into the corneas, the researchers noted that the tumor was not invaded by new blood vessels. This study, paralleling others, allowed researchers to pinpoint the actual activity of the factor found in cartilage and demonstrate that the process of cell proliferation in angiogenesis was inhibited.A vulnerable link in the carcinogenic pathway had been found using this antiangiogenic factor.

Robert Langer, Ph.D., of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has shown that shark cartilage contains 1,000 times more of the angiogenesis inhibitors than does cartilage from any other animal studied. 

In a 1983 study using basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus), Lee and Langer found that the extract of the cartilage significantly inhibited tumor neovascularization. Collagenase is required for neovascularization; presumably, the inhibition of this key enzyme contributed to the antiangiogenic activity of the cartilage. Their experiments demonstrated that the extracts inhibited in vitro capillary growth by V2 carcinomas, as well as reduced the growth of V2 tumors in rabbit corneas compared to controls. In 1996, another study using human umbilical vein endothelium demonstrated that shark cartilage at a concentration of 500½g/mL reduced endothelial cell proliferation by 32%. The single most limiting factor for further studies of cartilage is the lack of supply.

Active Agent Proves Elusive

While evidence shows that shark cartilage contains an agent that inhibits angiogenesis, the question remains: what makes this inhibition selective to cancerous growths? Many researchers believe that the answer lies in the fact that tumors send out blood vessels that grow in corkscrew fashion, while healthy tissues create blood vessels that grow in a linear direction. This difference allows the active product in cartilage to selectively inhibit tumor angiogenesis while permitting healthy host tissue to grow the necessary blood vessels. However, research in this area is very limited, and further investigation must be done in order to corroborate this theory. Carefully controlled, replicated studies in humans are needed to fully evaluate the clinical usefulness of the active agent in the treatment of cancer. Primarily because the active natural product(s) has/have not been identified, the clinical application of shark cartilage cannot be quantified at this point.

Over the last 20 years, researchers have attempted to isolate, purify and then synthesize the product (presumably a protein) responsible for the antiangiogenic activity. If the active ingredient is in fact a protein, some of it would have to be absorbed intact from the gastrointestinal tract in order to exert an effect. This poses a problem, because most proteins are easily digested in the gastrointestinal tract. One advantage that shark cartilage may possess is that the proposed active component may have a much lower molecular weight (10 daltons), which may allow for gastrointestinal absorption of the angiogenesis inhibitor. However, isolating the angiogenesis-inhibiting protein would most likely involve separating it from a larger protein in which it is inserted or linked. This isolation process may render the protein less effective.

In addition to the challenges of absorption and isolation, developing a method to dry and pulverize the cartilage without rendering the protein fibers ineffective presents another obstacle. This is largely due to the high water content of cartilage (85%) and the manner in which it is bound, which makes drying very difficult.

Advising Patients

Food Supplement:

Because shark cartilage is classified not as a drug but as a food supplement, pharmacists may not have readily available the information necessary to advise patients on its use. According to the FDA, a “food supplement” is something that is added to a food or diet. Examples of food supplements include vitamins, minerals, fiber, garlic, and unsaturated fish oils.

Food supplements are not considered medicinal and are not permitted to carry medical claims. They are controlled by the FDA’s food regulations, but not by its drug regulations. As is the case with vitamins and minerals, production of shark cartilage must meet the FDA’s guidelines for cleanliness, safety and labeling, but there is no standardization among products. As a consequence, there may be variations among batches depending upon the manufacturer and the sources of cartilage.

Indications and Efficacy: Indications for the use of shark cartilage include cancer, arthritis and angiogenesis-dependent diseases. Although not scientifically proven, other benefits may include advances in cataract surgery and new treatments for heart failure and hypertension. For consumers choosing to use shark cartilage to treat cancer, pharmacists should first counsel the patient, pointing out the limited amount of scientific research conducted to date on the use of cartilage in controlling neoplastic growth.

Recommended Intake:

With this in mind, a conservative recommendation for adults is approximately 7 – 10 grams of shark cartilage per day to eliminate the development of new vessels. The regimen should be divided into three doses per day, taken approximately 15 minutes before meals to facilitate absorption. This regimen is derived from the amount of extract used in the limited studies involving in vitro and in vivo assays.

Side Effects: Consumers should be informed about the possibility of as yet unknown side effects associated with prolonged inhibition of vessel growth. Delayed wound healing and contraception may be among the detectable side effects of therapy.

Contraindications: Contraindications should also be considered. For instance, individuals who need vascularization to occur should only use shark cartilage if so advised by their physician. For example, recent heart attack victims need to replace blood vessels in damaged tissue. In pregnancy, women are building a network of blood vessels to feed the embryo. Women who are attempting to conceive also should avoid shark cartilage, which may interfere with vascularization during the menstrual cycle. Those involved in a major muscle-building program and children also should avoid consuming shark cartilage.


Although angiogenesis and its effects on tumors have been well known for more than 20 years, only a handful of practitioners of alternative and complementary therapies employ shark cartilage to treat cancer patients. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation remain the most commonly used treatments. Two facts remain constant:

1) cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and

2) shark cartilage contains an antiangiogenic factor shown to slow cancer progression.

However, further controlled studies in humans are needed to substantiate the role of shark cartilage in the treatment of cancer. As research continues, shark cartilage may indeed prove to be significant in preventing and conquering cancer.


Green S. Shark cartilage therapy against cancer. Nutrition Health Forum 1997;14:1-5. Hunt TJ, Connelly JF. Shark cartilage for cancer treatment. Am J Health-Syst Pharm. 1995;52:1756,1760. Mathews J. Media feeds frenzy over shark cartilage as cancer treatment. J Nat Cancer Inst, 1993;85:1190- 91. Gromlry James J. Cartilage: Providing new hope for cancer and other diseases. Better Nutrition 96;58:69,70. Kugler HJ. From shark immunity to improved human immunity. Total Health 1996;18:53. Lane WI, Comas L. Sharks Don’t Get Cancer: How Shark Cartilage Could Save Your Life. I. William Lane, Linda Comas, eds. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group Inc.; 1992. McGuire TR, Kazakoff PW, et al. Antiproliferative activity of shark cartilage with and without tumor necrosis factor alpha in human umbilical vein endothelium. Pharmacotherapy. 1996;(2):237-244. Maugh II TH. Angiogenesis inhibitors link many diseases. Science 1981;212:1374-75. Oikawa T, Ashina-Fuse H, Shimamaura M, et al. A novel abiogenic inhibitor derived from Japanese shark cartilage. Extraction and estimation of inhibitory activities toward tumor embryonic angiogenesis. Cancer Letters 1990;51:181-186. Langer R, Moses MA, Sudhatter J. Identification of an inhibitor of neovasculatization from cartilage. Science 1990;248:1408-10. Langer R, Lee A. Shark cartilage contains inhibitors of tumor angiogenesis. Science 1983;221:1185-7. Scheer JF. Shark Cartilage: A great attacker of cancer. Better Nutrition. 1996;58:60-65. Fox A, Taylor N. The wonders of shark cartilage. Let’s Live. 1994;62(3):14-18.

Arthritis Benefits from Shark Cartilage Therapy

By: Leon Sculti 

Controversial or Cutting Edge?

Shark cartilage is one of the hottest and most controversial topics debated in medical circles today. Although its mode of action is accepted by established medical principles, the mechanism, or combination of elements responsible for triggering that action, remains a mystery.

Highly touted for its alleged cancer-fighting abilities (and currently under clinical trials by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] on terminally ill cancer patients in new Jersey), this natural nontoxic substance is now becoming widely accepted as an effective means for treating less fatal degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

“Phenomenal” is how Robert C. Greenburgh, B.S., D.C., E.A.S.A., describes the results he has seen from approximately sixty-five arthritis patients who have used, and continue to use, shark cartilage therapy under his care. Greenburgh explains, “When you have arthritis, you have inflammation; you have vascularity and the creation of new blood vessels. Shark cartilage must be the number one choice with inflammation …. it’s definitely cutting edge.”

Consumers Drive Demand

Right now, approximately 8 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and more than 40 million from osteoarthritis. Indeed, up to one-third of all Americans turn to alternative treatments every year. Theoretically, that represents the potential for some 16 million new consumers to enter the shark cartilage market this year alone, seeking relief for arthritis pain. Although these numbers do not explain why traditional medicine and its establishments all but ignore alternative therapies, they do suggest why the demand for such therapies, like shark cartilage, is booming.

This is a consumer-driven product” explains the health care manager of a major shark cartilage manufacturer. “Sales to [medical] professionals are up 71 percent in the last eight months alone. When a doctor orders our product, he or she is usually doing it for a patient.” Sales figures show that medical doctors, with both traditional and holistic philosophies, are the most active group of professionals purchasing shark cartilage, with sales to chiropractors and naturopaths ranking second and third, respectively.

How does Shark Cartilage Fight Arthritis?

Although researchers have not been able to pinpoint the exact therapeutic agent in shark cartilage, many agree that the primary inflammation-fighting component is a family of complex carbohydrates called mucopolysaccharides. Two members of this family, chondroitin sulfates A and C, have long been used by nutrition medicine practitioners to fight inflammation and enteritis. But for some reason it appears that the naturally occurring forms of these compounds in shark cartilage (which are among the largest produced by any living cells) are more effective than the synthetically refined mucopolysaccharides.

Even more important, when combined with the angiogenesis inhibition properties, which are believed to exist in the proteins, shark cartilage may not only provide inflammation relief, but also inhibit the vascularization of cartilage — often associated with advanced cases of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis –in human joints. Inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels is the number one basis for claims made about shark cartilage’s ability to successfully fight cancerous tumors.

Shark cartilage itself appears to have no negative side effects, except for some reported upset stomachs. Its major drawback is the fact that researchers cannot locate and isolate its active elements. many people, like I. William Lane, Ph.D., the most prominent proponent of shark cartilage and author of the book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer, feel this is not a drawback, but rather a small tactic to eventually produce a synthetic version of shark cartilage to satisfy those with profit-driven motives. “As soon as it’s pinpointed [the therapeutic agent], you can be sure the drug companies will synthesize it,” says Lane. To the contrary, others, like Carl Luer, who has done extensive research with shark cartilage, feel that uncertainty is just grounds for skepticism. He says, “If it’s effective, that’s great.” But he adds, “We need to find out what [the active molecule] is, rather than catching sharks, chopping them up, and putting them in pill form.” These two contrasting schools of thought give excellent insight to the moral, emotional, and professional dilemma that the advent of shark cartilage has spawned.

Shark Cartilage

Active Elements:

Proteins, Mucopolysaccharides, rest unknown

How supplied:

Capsule, Powder form

First Studies:

Institut Jules Bordet, Brussels, 1988

Early Research with Bovine Cartilage

It was the research of Robert Langer and Anne Lee, who were studying the antiangiogenetic effect of bovine cartilage in 1983, that eventually brought shark cartilage to the forefront of cancer and arthritis research. Soon after concluding that bovine cartilage did, in fact, possess angiogenesis inhibition properties, Langer and Lee learned why shark cartilage may work even better in producing the same effect.

Because there is so little fat clinging to shark cartilage as compared with bovine cartilage, it requires far less purification, and therefore can be considered “purer” than bovine cartilage. In addition, a shark’s skeleton, which represents 6 to 8 percent of its body weight, is comprised entirely of cartilage, making it considerably more abundant than bovine cartilage. Langer and Lee reported that the same therapeutic amount of extract recovered from 500 grams of bovine cartilage could be processed from only 0.5 gram of shark cartilage. Therefore, on a pound-for-pound basis, shark cartilage is 1,000 times more potent as an angiogenetic inhibitor than cartilage obtained from cows or other mammals.

Arthritis Studies

Once shark cartilage came into the limelight, researchers concentrated mostly on conducting cancer studies with it. The first arthritis studies, which are the best-documented, were done using bovine cartilage extracts. Here is a look at some documented arthritis studies.

1. A study conducted by John Prudden was described in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism1. In this study, 28 arthritis patients, all of whom exhibited severe pain and major functional disability, were given a cartilage preparation over a period of three to eight weeks. Of the 28 subjects, 19 showed results that were classified as “excellent”; six were classified as having “good” results; and three were classified as “fair” or showed “no response”. It was noted that none showed any ill effects.

2. The results of a long-term study conducted by Dr. Rejholec, Head of Internal Medicine/Rheumatology at Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia, were published in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism2. The five-year, double-blind study was done using three groups, with a total of 147 osteoarthritic patients. Two of the three groups were given variations of bovine cartilage extract; the other group (control) received a placebo. The placebo group was encouraged to use various non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) during active episodes. These results were quite exceptional. The groups treated with the cartilage had average pain scores drop 85 percent, whereas the average pain score of the control group fell only 5 percent over the five years. Also, the actual joint degeneration in the cartilage-treated group was significantly less than that of the control group. At the end of five years, the joint degeneration of the cartilage-treated group was 37 percent of the control group.

3. In 1989, Jose A. Orcasita of the University of Miami School of Medicine administered doses of dry shark cartilage for a period of three weeks to six elderly patients suffering from “significant” to “unbearable” pain from osteoarthritis. In all cases Orcasita reported that pain was markedly reduced and quality of life was vastly improved.

Clinical Applications Using Shark Cartilage to Treat Arthritis

Approximately, 15,000 to 18,000 Americans, whether under the supervision of a physician or not, take daily doses of shark cartilage as a treatment for either arthritis or cancer. As of yet, there has been no official protocol concerning the application of shark cartilage to treat arthritis. There is, however, a wealth of information from which to draw.

Based on the research he has been privy to over many years, Lane, who makes it clear that he is not a medical practitioner, reports that “60 to 70 percent of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis cases have experienced successful reduction in pain when given 1 gram of dry powdered shark cartilage per 15 pounds of body weight.” If capsules of powdered shark cartilage (assuming they are 740-750 mg each) are administered, that dosage would be equivalent to 1 capsule per 11 pounds of body weight. Lane adds, “The effect with arthritis is rapid. You can usually notice a difference within 2 to 3 weeks, due to the anti-inflammatory agent. If results do not occur within 30 days of treatment, this therapy probably will not work for that particular patient.

Greenburgh, who has adapted shark cartilage therapy in his Missouri practice, uses somewhat different guidelines when treating patients who suffer from arthritis. Like Lane, he uses body weight as a measuring device when determining dosages, but elaborates:”… the stage or state of inflammation is important as well; the bigger the individual and the more advanced the situation, the higher the dosage.” He estimates his dosage platform to be “1 gram of dry powdered shark cartilage per every three to five pounds of body weight.” Greenburgh employs a 90-day program for his patients and says, “I have never been disappointed … and have always noticed a significant change for the better when using this 90-day program.

Once treatment has been considered successful, Greenburgh reduces the dosage to a maintenance level of “about 1 to 2 capsules three times a day.” When asked what was the best thing about shark cartilage, Greenburgh responded, “The fact that it’s been deemed totally nontoxic by the FDA … I know that I can’t hurt anybody.” Most doctors familiar with shark cartilage generally agree that: (1) It is most effective when the daily dosage is taken orally, three times a day, in equal amounts, about 15 to 20 minutes before meals; (2) When taking dry powdered shark cartilage, every 1 gram of shark cartilage should be mixed in a blender with 2 oz of nonacidic fruit juice or nectar (capsules can be taken with water); (3) If a patient experiences an upset stomach due to the fishy taste, retention enemas can be applied; (4) Due to the antiangiogenetic effect, children, pregnant women, and people who have experienced a recent heart attack should not be taking shark cartilage. It should also be discontinued three months before and after any major surgical procedure.

Determining the Best Product

Due to the fact that shark cartilage is sold a food supplement in the Untied States, manufacturers of the product must abide by certain FDA regulations. These companies are forbidden to directly claim or indirectly imply through the labeling, advertising, marketing, or promotion of their product that it has any medical or therapeutic value whatsoever. The result of this has been mass confusion in a mass market. Unable to mention primary consumer benefits and selling points, it has become extremely difficult for any one brand to separate itself from the rest, Thus, consumers, doctors, and retailers alike are all left to decipher for themselves which products are truly effective and which are merely cheap imitations.

The Lesser of Two “Evils”?

It is likely that consumer demand will continue for shark cartilage as more and more people experience its benefits. With it being deemed nontoxic by the FDA, shark cartilage does not have many of the side effects such as gastric irritation seen with other prescription arthritis agents o the market such as the NSAIDs. Certainly, this is where shark cartilage has a distinct advantage. One has only to read many of the current advertisements for arthritis pain and medications featured in popular health magazines. A recent ad informed readers that, if taken once a day, the drug “may relieve arthritis pain.” However, the ad also warned that this very same drug could cause “serious side effects, including stomach ulcers and intestinal bleeding.” In addition, the copy revealed that “the most common side effects associated with the use of [that particular product] can include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, stomach upset, nausea, and skin rash.” The drug being advertised was only available with a doctor’s prescription.


1. Prudden, J. Sem Arthritis and Rheumatism, Summer 1974.

2. Rejholec. Sem Arthritis and Rheumatism, 17(2), Nov. 1987.

3. Let’s Live, March 1994, p. 16