Shark cartilage possesses a mean bite

Last month I was in Wal-Mart, and I aimlessly wandered into the vitamin aisle. There were hundreds of nutritional supplement items, but one caught my attention – shark cartilage.

Unfortunately, the label contained little information pertaining to what the product actually does, such as make one lose weight or grow a dorsal fin.

As a kid, I used to see "Jaws" on my wall at bedtime. Now I see health companies trying to withhold routine information on Jaws' cousins.

I needed four simple questions answered – shark cartilage's exact use, how long the product has been on the market, does it sell well and why shark cartilage? The first company I spoke with, Rexall Sundown, needed the questions faxed so they could be given to the right person. I obliged. The second company, NBTY Inc., was more contentious.

Six different company people – a sales operator, a person from public relations, a receptionist, a technical spokesperson, an advertising person and the vice president of merchandising – gave me enough information to begin research. But none of them would go on record to answer my questions.

Supposedly, shark cartilage is rich in minerals, proteins and carbohydrates and may help shrink the size of cancerous tumors. The technical specialist suggested I find the book "Sharks Don't Get Cancer," by Dr. I. William Lane. I found the book in the library, and the statistics were convincing. Actually, some sharks do get cancerous tumors, but only about 1 in 1,000,000. The book is comprehensive on studies using shark cartilage, which is reported to be 1,000 times more effective as an angiogenesis inhibitor than bovine cartilage. In simple terms, taking shark cartilage can potentially reduce tumors.

Each person I asked for comments must have thought it was a prank. There was no mention of cancer prevention on Rexall Sundown's shark cartilage canister or in NBTY's Puritan's Pride Vitamin catalog. Of course, they don't want to give people false hope, but you would think with such a revelation, companies would want me to report it. Instead, they seemed leery as if I were trying to bring the whole thing down as a fraud.

Thankfully, a Rexall Sundown Inc. spokesperson was more helpful. She returned my calls twice and answered the four questions. Sundown Vitamins started selling cartilage in 1993; it can be helpful in maintaining healthy joints; it's a consistent seller but not in the top 10; and a reason it probably does sell is the unusual name. She had no prior knowledge of the cancer reducing possibilities, but at least she was willing to answer instead of passing me along to someone else.

My intentions were to compare whole sharks to sharks in a bottle. I didn't ask any spokesperson if sharks had to sign their driver's license to donate cartilage, nor did I question the price. One hundred capsules of pure cartilage from NBTY Inc. goes for $23.95. A shark at a pet shop would cost considerably more, but only because they are the second-coolest thing in the store, next to tarantulas. "Jaws" frequently appears on TBS, if you are in need of free sharks. Some restaurants serve sharks as a delicacy. There's always Sea World, too.

Maybe the right thing to do would be take a vacation, go to the beach and just question the sharks. They might be able to tell me more than the vitamin companies. For now, I'll stick to Flintstone Vitamins.