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The Chinese have believed in the healing power of shark cartilage for over a hundred years. Shark fin soup was, and still is, consumed not only for its taste but to cure a wide assortment of ailments. Perhaps the Chinese are onto something. Modern research indicates that shark cartilage may contain a key to curing cancer.

Despite the seemingly sudden interest in cartilage as a healing, life-prolonging agent, cartilage research has been going on longer than you may think. The step-by-step research process has already taken years, and it is far from over.

Over 40 years ago, Dr. John F Prudden theorized that cattle cartilage was a natural healing agent for wounds and maybe even for cancer. After decades of cartilage research, he was awarded the Linus Pauling Scientist of the Year Award in 1995 for his efforts.

Dr. Prudden began by placing cattle cartilage into the wounds of rats. He claimed that the wounds healed very quickly with little swelling. Since then, he's given cartilage to over 100 people with cancer, and he believes he's seen some miraculous recoveries.

In the 1960s, Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School theorized that the growth of a tumor could be prevented if the growth of new blood vessels that nourish the tumor could be stopped. Since cartilage usually contains no blood vessels, he experimented with it and found that calf cartilage did stop tumor growth.

In 1990, Robert Langer, a doctor of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, identified a specific protein in cattle cartilage that prevents the growth of the tiny blood vessels that provide nourishment to tumors. He called this substance CDI (cartilage-derived inhibitor). Langer is still trying to get at and make usable the substance that interferes with blood vessel growth in shark cartilage.

Although cattle cartilage was the first to be identified as a potential cancer fighter, most research has focused on shark cartilage. That's mainly because shark cartilage is so plentiful. The shark's skeleton is made up entirely of cartilage.

Chomps cancer? It's almost impossible to give cancer to a shark, no matter what you expose it to. But it's highly unlikely that a shark's good health has anything to do with its cartilage. For starters, sharks have powerful immune systems. Unlike humans, they have certain infection-fighting molecules that constantly course through their bloodstreams.

If shark, or cattle, cartilage does fight cancer in humans, it probably works by interfering with blood vessel growth. For a cancerous tumor to grow, it needs new blood vessels to grow toward it. That's how the tumor gets nourishment. This process is called angiogenesis. Cartilage contains a protein that is supposedly anti-angiogenic, which means it inhibits the growth of blood vessels.

According to MIT's Dr. Langer, shark cartilage has 1,000 times more of this anti-angiogenic substance than cartilage from other animals. Since cancer tumors need blood vessels to bring them nourishment, a substance that stops blood vessel growth can, theoretically, stop tumor growth. Scientists have identified more than two dozen substances in cartilage that interfere with the growth of blood vessels.

Shark cartilage as a cancer cure may seem crazy, but penicillin once seemed like a flaky idea, too. Many people found it hard to believe that a substance found in mold could fight deadly infections and help prolong life.

On the other hand, shark cartilage may just be the current flash-in-the-pan medical "miracle" of the day. Only time will tell.

Takes the ache out of arthritis. The collagen found in cartilage may help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In one small study, people with rheumatoid arthritis stopped taking their medicine and started taking collagen derived from chicken cartilage. Most people reported a decrease in the number of swollen and tender joints. In fact, almost a quarter of the study participants experienced a total remission of the disease.

Arthritis researchers have experimented with cattle cartilage, too. They've had good results in a number of clinical trials.

Speeds wound healing. Studies have found that cattle cartilage may help wounds heal faster.











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