Shark cartilage: uses and evidence

For years, shark cartilage has been credited with multiple health properties. However, science was in charge of denying them.

Last update: September 19, 2021

Shark cartilage is a supplement that is obtained from the skeletal tissues of sharks caught mainly in the Pacific Ocean. It is also known by other names, such as "marine collagen" or "Requin cartilage." Until a few years ago, it attracted the attention of millions of consumers around the world due to its properties. However, its effects are being discussed today.

While its advocates claim that it helps treat cancer and other chronic problems, such as arthritis and psoriasis, the evidence is limited. In fact, it is warned that its use without medical supervision carries health risks. What is there to know about it? We will detail it in the following space.

Shark cartilage: what you need to know

To get shark cartilage the resilient elastic cartilage or endoskeleton of various species of sharks is collected. However, some preparations contain traces of other tissues of this marine species, such as the liver. Also, given their origin, they may have heavy metals (such as mercury) or certain bacterial agents.

As compiled by a summary of "Dietary Supplements: A Framework for Evaluating Safety", Its nutritional properties include proteins, proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, minerals, carbohydrates, and lipids. For this reason, its consumption is believed to provide certain health benefits, such as joint protection, healing and inhibition of cancer growth.

What does science say?

Since complementary medicine suggests the use of shark cartilage for conditions such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, cancer, macular degeneration, and psoriasis, among others, the product caught the attention of science. In this way, several scientific investigations have been done over the years that have made it possible to evaluate its effects.

Joint health

A study in rats shared in Pharmaceuticals concluded that type II shark collagen, extracted from a glycoprotein from blue shark cartilage (Prionace glauca), caused positive effects against the symptoms of Freund's adjuvant-induced rheumatoid arthritis.

However, an investigation disclosed through Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology He reported that The efficacy of this supplement in maintaining joint health is questionable. Instead, it suggests that it can cause an immune reaction that puts consumers' health at risk.

Although its use for arthritis was widespread, today there are serious doubts about the safety of shark cartilage.

Skin health

Shark cartilage supplementation is associated with skin health benefits. Specifically, preliminary studies have determined that a specific extract of shark cartilage (AE-941) decreases the presence of plaques in people with psoriasis.

It also seems to soothe hives by promoting the healing process. However, the evidence regarding these effects is still limited.


The most controversial use of shark cartilage is as a supplement for cancer patients. For many decades, advertisements for this product sold it almost as a "miracle formula" to stop this disease.

And although small studies attributed antitumor benefits to it, currently, most of the investigations have disproved these effects. The hypothesis suggested that this supplement could prevent the growth of new blood vessels, which is necessary for the growth of tumors.

It was also thought to improve the immune response and inflammatory processes. But as a publication of Internal Medicine of Mexico points out, «clinical trials have been inconclusive regarding a net benefit in cancer patients. '

Information released in the United States National Library of Medicine supports these claims. It is added that there is no evidence that taking shark cartilage helps people with advanced cancers previously treated breast, colon, lung, prostate or brain. It also does not benefit patients with previously treated advanced non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Risks and side effects

For most healthy adults, oral consumption of shark cartilage is probably safe. It is also usually harmless when used topically for up to 8 weeks.

However, it sometimes causes the following side effects:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or an upset stomach.
  • Constipation.
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling tired.
  • Unusual or unpleasant taste in the mouth.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • High levels of calcium.

The same way, in allergic people it can cause symptoms of greater care, as the following:

  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.

In case of presenting these symptoms, it is essential to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Its consumption should be avoided in the following cases:

  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • High glucose.
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions. Contrary to the benefits it is believed to bring, it appears to overstimulate the immune system and make symptoms worse.
  • Hypercalcemia

There are no reports of interactions between shark cartilage and medications.. Even so, its simultaneous use with anticancer drugs, steroids, and drugs to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ is discouraged.

Contrary to popular belief, shark cartilage may overstimulate the immune system.

What is there to remember about shark cartilage?

It is essential to note that this supplement is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most of the presentations distributed in health food stores or stores on-line they are not regulated. Thus, this product should not be used as a replacement for medications prescribed by the doctor.

In case of considering its use as a nutritional supplement, you should first consult your doctor. The professional will determine if its intake is safe or if it represents a risk for the effects of the first-line treatments.

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