Cartilage is a type of connective tissue in the body that has a tough, flexible matrix made of collagen, protein, and sugar. Cartilage is found in the nose and ears, as well as joints, including the knees, hips, shoulders, and fingers.

The cartilage used in supplements usually comes from either sharks or cows, called bovine cartilage. Shark cartilage was proposed as a treatment for cancer, based on the false idea that sharks do not get cancer (they do). In test tubes, cartilage seemed to stop new blood vessels from forming. Cancerous tumors need new blood vessels to keep growing, so researchers wondered if shark cartilage could shrink tumors. But so far, studies in people have not found any evidence that shark cartilage stops, prevents, or even slows the growth of cancerous tumors.

Cartilage has also been proposed as a treatment for osteoarthritis, which is the "wear and tear" arthritis that happens when cartilage in your joints breaks down. The idea is that taking shark or bovine cartilage, or a supplement called chondroitin, which is part of cartilage, will help your body repair or grow new cartilage in your joints. There is not any evidence that taking cartilage helps, but the story is a little more complicated when it comes to chondroitin.

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Review Date: 12/28/2014  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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