Uses of this Supplement
Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Look Up > Supplements > Cartilage
Dietary Sources
Commercial Preparations
Therapeutic Uses
Dosage Ranges and Duration of Administration
Side Effects/Toxicology


Cartilage is elastic, translucent connective tissue found in animals and man. Most cartilage is converted to bone as an animal matures, but some remains in such sites as the nose, ears, knees, and other joints. Cartilage extracts and supplements are made from cows (bovine cartilage), whose bodies contain both cartilage and bone, and sharks (shark cartilage), whose bodies contain cartilage and no bone.

Cartilage supplements are said to shrink tumors; to cure, or at least slow the development of, cancers; to reverse bone diseases such as osteoporosis; and to treat other conditions, such as macular degeneration and psoriasis, in which overgrowth of blood vessels causes disease symptoms.

The notion of using cartilage medicinally began in 1954, when bovine tracheal cartilage was found to promote wound healing. Since then, clinical trials have shown this substance to be effective against a broad range of conditions ranging from arthritis to cancer. In studies at the Comprehensive Medical Clinic in Southern California, patients reported pain relief in as little as three weeks, though patients should be cautioned against expecting rapid relief. Early reports claimed that sharks do not get cancer, which proved to be untrue, although it is true that the incidence of cancer in sharks is low.

Shark cartilage that has been dried and pulverized into fine powder for use as a supplement contains many active components. Among the most important is an angiogenesis inhibitor (a protein that, at least in laboratory research, suppresses the development of new blood vessels). These angiogenic effects have been demonstrated in the laboratory but have not yet been proven in human trials. Phase III clinical trials began in December 1998 on a liquid antiangiogenesis drug called Neovastat, which is made from shark cartilage. The 550 patients with small-cell lung cancer who participated were given chemotherapy; half were also given Neovastat, the other half a placebo. The joint studies are being conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and a biotechnology company.

Bovine cartilage that has been cleaned, dried, and powdered to be used as a supplement helps to accelerate wound healing and reduce inflammation. Bovine tracheal cartilage was initially called catrix (from the Latin cicatrix, which refers to a healed wound). Today it is recognized as one of the few substances that speed wound healing. Both shark and bovine cartilage are beneficial for psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.

Dietary Sources

Commercially prepared supplements of bovine or shark cartilage.


Shark cartilage contains angiogenesis inhibitor proteins; approximately 16% calcium and 8% phosphorus, which are absorbed as nutrients; and immune system-stimulating mucopolysaccharides, carbohydrates that form chemical bonds with water.

Bovine cartilage is believed to inhibit tumor growth, and the polysaccharides it contains are believed to combat cancer by stimulating the immune system.

Commercial Preparations

Neither shark nor bovine cartilage is U.S. FDA–approved for safety or effectiveness. (Shark cartilage was under study by the National Cancer Institute when it was discovered that every one of the cartilage supplements provided for the study had been contaminated. The trials were stopped.)

Both shark and bovine cartilage may be obtained at health stores or by mail-order as nutritional supplements. They may be purchased in powder or capsule form under a variety of brand names, typically in capsules of 750 mg.

Therapeutic Uses

Shark and/or bovine cartilage is used to:

  • Treat arthritis
  • Treat psoriasis
  • Treat regional enteritis
  • Relieve or reduce pain, inflammation, and joint damage associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

Dosage Ranges and Duration of Administration

When using shark or bovine cartilage as a dietary supplement, 3 to 4 capsules per day.

Side Effects/Toxicology

Some shark cartilage products have a strong fish odor and flavor that may be unpleasant. Taken in large doses, shark cartilage has a very unpleasant taste and often causes nausea.


With their providers' approval, most people can take shark cartilage safely as an adjunct to conventional treatments for arthritis and cancer; however, cartilage supplements should not be used in place of conventional treatments. Shark cartilage should not be used by:

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • Patients who recently underwent surgery
  • Patients who recently survived a heart attack


No clinically significant interactions between cartilage and conventional medications are known to have been reported in the literature to date.


Balch J, Balch P. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2nd ed. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group; 1997.

Burton Goldberg Group. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Puyallup, Wash: Future Medicine Publishing, Inc; 1994.

Cassileth BR. The Alternative Medicine Handbook. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company; 1998.

Dupont E, Savard PE, Jourdain C, et al. Antiangiogenic properties of a novel shark cartilage extract: potential role in the treatment of psoriasis. J Cutan Med Surg. 1998;2:146-152.

Horsman MR, Alsner J, Overgaard J. The effect of shark cartilage extracts on the growth and metastatic spread of the SCCVII carcinoma. Acta Oncol. 1998;37:441-445.

Kriegal H, Prudden J. Bovine Tracheal Cartilage Research. Alternative & Complementary Therapies. April/May 1995.

Miller DR, Anderson GT, Stark JJ, Granick JL, Richardson D. Phase I/II trial of the safety and efficacy of shark cartilage in the treatment of advanced cancer. J Clin Oncol. 1998;16:3649-3655.

Moss R. Cancer Therapy. Brooklyn, NY: Equinox Press Inc; 1992.

Murray M. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1996.

Prudden JF. The treatment of human cancer with agents prepared from bovine cartilage. Biol Response Mod. 1985;4:551-584.

Romano CF, Lipton A, Harvey HA, Simmonds MA, Romano PJ, Imboden SL. A phase II study of Catrix-S in solid tumors. J Biol Response Mod. 1985;4:585-589.

Sheu JR, Fu CC, Tsai ML, Chung WJ. Effect of U-995, a potent shark cartilage-derived angiogenesis inhibitor, on anti-angiogenesis and anti-tumor activities. Anticancer Res. 1998;18:4435-4441.

Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

This publication contains information relating to general principles of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific instructions for individual patients. The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. The reader is advised to check product information (including package inserts) for changes and new information regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.