Shark cartilage is one of the most popular supplements in the United States, with over 40 brand name products sold in 1995 alone. Primarily used for cancer, its use became popular in the 1980s after several poor-quality studies reported "miracle" cancer cures.
Laboratory research and animal studies of shark cartilage or the shark cartilage derivative product AE-941 (Neovastat®) have demonstrated some anti-cancer (anti-angiogenic) and anti-inflammatory properties. However, there is currently not enough reliable human evidence to recommend for or against shark cartilage for any condition. There are several ongoing cancer studies. Many trials are supported by manufacturers of shark cartilage products, which raises questions about impartiality.
Commercial shark cartilage is primarily composed of chondroitin sulfate (a type of glycosaminoglycan), which is further broken down in the body into glucosamine and other end products. Although chondroitin and glucosamine have been extensively studied for osteoarthritis, there is no evidence supporting the use of unprocessed shark cartilage preparations for this condition. Shark cartilage also contains calcium. Manufacturers sometimes promote its use for calcium supplementation.
Shark cartilage supplements at common doses can cost as much as $700-1,000 per month.
AE-941, Arthrovas, cartilage, Haifischknorpel (German), Houtsmuller Diet, Neoretna, Neovastat®, Psovascar, shark, shark fin soup, Sphyrna lewini (hammerhead shark), Squalus acanthias (spiny dogfish shark), squalamine, U-955.
Note: The product Catrix® is made from cow cartilage, not from shark cartilage.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Chondroitin sulfate, a component of shark cartilage, has been shown to benefit patients with osteoarthritis. However, the concentrations of chondroitin in shark cartilage products may be too small to be helpful. The ability of shark cartilage to block new blood vessel growth or reduce inflammation is proposed to be helpful in rheumatoid arthritis. However, there is limited research in these areas, and more studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.
For several decades, shark cartilage has been proposed as a cancer treatment. Studies have shown shark cartilage or the shark cartilage product AE-941 (Neovastat®) to block the growth of new blood vessels, a process called "anti-angiogenesis," which is believed to play a role in controlling growth of some tumors. There have also been several reports of successful treatments of end-stage cancer patients with shark cartilage, but these have not been well designed or included reliable comparisons to accepted treatments.
It is proposed that shark cartilage or the shark cartilage product AE-941 (Neovastat®) may be helpful in patients with macular degeneration. A small amount of research suggests possible benefits, but more study is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Based on laboratory studies, shark cartilage may reduce inflammation. However, it is unclear if shark cartilage is a safe or helpful treatment for pain in humans.
Shark cartilage products have been tested by mouth or on the skin in people with psoriasis. However, no clear benefits have been shown. More research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.