What is Cartilade
Shark Cartilage, in the true sense of the term, is just that -- cartilage tissue from a shark. Cartilage, a translucent elastic tissue, composes most of the skeleton of embryonic and very young vertebrates and, through a process of calcification, is transformed into bones which make up the fully developed skeletal system.
You're probably most familiar with cartilage as the "tough stuff" you don't want in your meat. You most likely refer to it as "gristle." Cartilage is apparent in the human body, as your nose and "Adam's apple."
Cartilage is also found between the segments of the spine and at the ends of long bones, where it acts as a shock absorber and a bearing surface to reduce the friction between moving parts. It is tough and elastic. There are three types.
Fibrocartilage, the first type, is found between the backbones. It is the strongest of the three types. The second, hyaline cartilage, is gristly elastic tissue that thinly covers the moving ends of bones, connects the ribs to the breastbone, and supports the nose, windpipe, and part of the voice box. This type of cartilage is likely to harden in elderly people. Yellow cartilage, the third variety, is the most elastic. It is found in the external ear, Eustachian tube, and throat.
One of the most interesting things about cartilage, however, is not its form but its importance to the body--an importance that is first apparent in the embryo. In an early fetus, there are no bones; it is cartilage that provides the framework on which the major bones of the body--excluding the skull--take form. Eventually, fetal cartilage becomes impregnated with calcium salts so that hard, or "stony," bones become apparent.
The bones of children are relatively pliable because they contain more cartilage--which is found at the tops of bones in zones called growth plates--and less calcium salts than do the bones of adults. (A theory has been postulated that newborn children are resistant to many diseases because of the large amount of cartilage present in their bodies during the early fetal and developmental stages.*) Elderly people have much less soft tissue such as cartilage and a higher proportion of calcium salts, so their bones are more brittle.
A process similar to the one in which fetal cartilage develops into bone takes place throughout life whenever bones are broken. It is believed that when a bone breaks, a substance within the bone signals cells from the circulatory system to clean out the breakage site and summon undifferentiated cells to populate the site and multiply. These undifferentiated cells become chondrocytes, or cartilage cells, which produce an intertwining of cartilaginous fibers that fills the break and joins the bone fragments together. Finally, the cartilage is calcified and becomes new living bone.
Amazingly, cartilage is a tissue that performs its functions without nerves, blood vessels, or a lymphatic system. Nutrients are, therefore, not transported to cartilage via the blood or lymphatic fluid. It is this particular characteristic that seems to hold particular promise in battling cancer and other diseases that cause the formation of malignant tumors.*
In 1983, two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a study showing that shark cartilage contains a substance that significantly inhibits the development of blood vessels that nourish solid tumors, thereby limiting tumor growth. Working independently, medical researchers at Harvard University Medical School found that if one could inhibit angiogenesis--the development of a new blood network--one could prevent the development of tumor-based cancer and metastasis.*
To date, scientists have not identified the specific active components of shark cartilage which are responsible for manipulating the process of angiogenesis. Some in the scientific community (mainly those in a position to gain financially from the opportunities synthesis would yield) criticize advocates of shark cartilage because there has been no identification or synthesis of the active substances within shark cartilage. The fact remains, however, that natural dried shark cartilage powder, though crude, appears to be yielding positive results on numerous medical fronts.*