Shark Liver Oil

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

Nutraceutical-based medical care is the future of medicine, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Typically, patients come to see me after meeting several other physicians without satisfactory results. I put them on a programme of supplements, adjust their diet, and watch their lives change. At such times, I feel I am a witness to an extraordinary event.

Not long ago I saw a thirty-five-year-old man with a history of migraine headaches; I treated him with something as simple as magnesium, the herb feverfew, and, for his allergies, nettle and quercetin, and within two weeks he reported that his headaches had disappeared. As a doctor, it’s indescribably thrilling to witness such swift and beneficial changes. Nutritional medicine may still be the road less travelled, but, as Robert Frost said, in the end, travelling that road has made all the difference.

We are just at the beginning of the nutraceutical revolution. Within the world of nutritional medicine exists ever more powerful compounds yet to be discovered. That is one reason why I became interested in researching truly innovative alternative treatments. One of those was a cancer preventive extract of shark liver oil. You can’t get much more esoteric than oil from the liver of Greenland sharks, but I was fascinated by the 30 years of studies that had been conducted on it and its ability to prevent malignancies.

Originally discovered in the 1920s, shark liver oil extract contains compounds called alkylglycerols, which have also been found in breast milk and bone marrow. The main source for these compounds is found in sharks around the deep, cold waters of Greenland. When cervical cancer was studied in the 1980s, there was a 29 per cent regression in tumour growth in patients taking 250mg of alkylglycerols a day.

Before that, in the 1970s, Dr Astrid Brohult, MD, published a study in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica reporting how 250mg per day of shark oil given one week prior to radiation therapy for cervical cancer reduced tissue injury, while another study in the 1980s reported reduced mortality rates and improved immune response. Alkylglycerols have also been studied as a treatment for childhood leukaemia. In the Proceedings of the American Meeting of Cancer Research it was reported that leukaemia prevents the immune system from properly forming white blood cells, but with this oil they seem to ‘mature’ to a proper form more easily.

Healing Oil 

Shark liver oil is just one of many interesting, healing oils that have been studied of late. The preventive role for various fats — or, lipids — in cancer has been suggested by studies on everything from omega-3 fatty acids to monounsaturated fats, such as those in olive oil. The membranes of cancer cells actually change when they are exposed to different types of fat. It appears that certain physical properties of the cell membrane are altered. For instance, omega-3s tend to be anti-inflammatory and seem to slow down all inflammatory changes in the cell. Cancer cells may be stimulated by inflammatory chemicals, and oils that inhibit inflammation may help our immune system fight cancer.

The idea that a tumour cell could be altered so easily by an oil was fascinating to me. This is the fascination of all nutraceuticals, of course — not only are they versatile and powerful in and of themselves, but if we understand how they work, they may open the door to a host of other treatments and medicines. Here is a situation where you can literally change a cancer cell’s very composition and, perhaps, potentially make it more susceptible to chemotherapy. If you rely on nutraceuticals and integrative medicine, you are offering your body a fuller spectrum of medical care.

I had long wanted to conduct my own research on alkylglycerols, but there was very little interest in the benefits of natural therapies for cancer in the US. I looked abroad and was extremely fortunate to receive a grant from the Royal Academy at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. We took tumour samples from nine cancer patients who were undergoing surgery, and we cultured their cancer cells. Using a special technique called fluorescent cytoprint assay, we were able to cultivate tumour cells, grow them in individual petri dishes, and treat them with combinations of chemotherapy and shark oil.

My Research 

This, by the way, is how cancer research begins: with studies in petri dishes, called in vitro studies. If the results are encouraging, the studies will be repeated, and then eventually the substance will be tested in laboratory animals to see if it is safe and still effective.

Countless times, unfortunately, the results in animals are far different from those in a petri dish — either the substance is toxic to a living organism, or it gets broken down and changed by the body before it can reach the cancer cells. In the case of shark oil extracts, we already know that they are well tolerated by humans and that oils taken orally do tend to get absorbed into the fatty membranes of cells. Alkylglycerols are actually a compound found in shark oil.

My particular study is complete, and the initial results are impressive: in all of the patient cultures tested, alkylglycerols enhanced the effect of chemotherapy. Six patients’ cancer cell counts dropped dramatically, with over 90 per cent of the tumours in the cell culture eradicated; three others showed increases in sensitivity to the chemotherapy, above 50 per cent.

What accounts for such a dramatic turnaround? Tumour cells, it turns out, concentrate alkylglycerols at a rate 10-100 times higher than normal tissue. The catch? Tumour cells may lack the enzyme to break down this compound. In a sense, the compound clogs and chokes them, making it more difficult for the cancer cells to replicate. Other studies suggest that alkylglycerols stimulate the immune system, which can then target tumour cells more effectively.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but the questions these compounds raise serve as clues in one of the most exciting treasure hunts around. Further studies on shark liver oil and cancer are now under way at the Karolinska Institutet. Hopefully this will spur others to help fund research.

What does this mean for real-life cancer patients? In the big picture, it means we are beginning to understand what cancer cells depend upon and are learning how to pre-treat them with natural compounds that they find very difficult to remove from their system. From substances that inhibit new blood vessel growth — including nutrients, such as genistein, and drugs, such as endostatin, which has shown remarkable results in animal studies — to substances like perillyl alcohol, an extract of lavender, that is being studied by the National Cancer Institute and other laboratories, in the US and elsewhere, for its ability to reverse both pancreatic and breast cancer, we are on the verge of a breakthrough in treating cancer.

Once we understand its weaknesses, we can use our regular arsenal of chemotherapy and radiation along with high-powered nutrition to deal the final one-two blow. Specifically, it means that I recommend to all my cancer patients a cocktail of fatty acids and oils that include flaxseed oil, fish oil, olive oil, and shark liver oil. All have been shown to have cancer-preventive effects.

A New Wave 

Shark oil is only the beginning of the next wave of nutraceuticals, as I cited before. I’d like to let you in on some other equally promising nutrients of the future — nutraceuticals that may help prevent cancer, help you lose weight, protect against heart disease and diabetes, and enhance overall immunity.

These nutrients are on the cutting edge of the nutraceutical revolution, and some of them are just beginning to be used by forward-looking physicians.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEINDO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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