What is Deer Velvet Antler?
Velvet antler refers to the cartilaginous antlers of moose, elk, and deer. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where dried slices are brewed into a tea and drunk, but is becoming more popular in the western world, where it is generally powdered and consumed in a capsule, or powdered and reonstituted into a liquid extract which is sprayed under the tongue. Deer Antler contains a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), which is similar to Human Growth Hormone. It has been christened "the new steroid" by some and has recently experienced a massive surge in both popularity and controversy. Deer antler is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which means it is not allowed to be used by Olympic, or many other professional athletes.
Where Does Deer Velvet Antler Come From?
Deer antler is obtained from a number of species, mostly Red Deer and Elk. In countries like Australia and New Zealand, the animal is given a local anaesthetic and the horn is cut off humanely before it has matured. Deer Antler is one of the fastest growing substances on earth, and horns are harvested annually. The largest Velvet antler producers in the world are New Zealand and China.
Benefits of Deer Velvet Antler
In traditional Chinese medicine, the various parts of the antler are used to treat various conditions, including osteoporosis and arthritis, and to promote the health of the cardiovascular and immune systems. and the highly valued, fast-growing tip is given to children to promote growth. Velvet antler is marketed predominantly for its supposed effects on athletic performance and arthritis, and as a male virility aid. There is a small amount of research on Velvet antler. In addition to a small number of human studies into arthritis, athletic performance and libido, Velvet antler has been studied in animals for its effects on heart disease, tolerance to opiates, allergies, and bone and skin healing (1).
The ingredient in Deer Antler most prized for its effect, IGF-1, is used legitimately by doctors to treat children with severe growth defects.
Benefits of Deer Velvet Antler for Bodybuilding
IGF-1, which is present in Deer Velvet Antler, is an anabolic hormone naturally produced in the liver. It stimulates cell proliferation, inhibits cell death and is predominantly involved in the repair of injuries, particularly to cartilage and tendons, although it is able to stimulate growth of every type of cell in the body. IGF-1 stimulates release of Human Growth Hormone, which explains why these hormones have similar effects. Many believe that deer antler also enhances testosterone.
Safety, Negatives and Side Effects of Deer Velvet Antler
Deer Velvet Antler has generated a lot of buzz in recent times. Unfortunately not a lot of this has come from within the science community. Deer Velvet Antler supplements are taken orally. IGF-1 is a protein, and it is well known that the enzymes and acid of the digestive system break all proteins down into amino acids. There is no medically valid way to administer protein hormones orally. This is why diabetics must inject insulin, and children with dwarfism being treated with IGF-1 receive it as an injection. The rationale of the spray form is that the protein may diffuse across the oral mucous membranes and into the bloodstream, avoiding the gut, but this method of delivery is inefficient, variable, and does not work for all proteins (3).
IGF-1 is not always found in antler extracts, and when it is, it is present only in tiny amounts. A study using a very sophisticated technology which is able to detect minute traces of chemicals, only managed to find IGF-1 in 67% of commercially available Deer Velvet Antler supplements that were studied (2). The effects of Deer Velvet Antler are not well characterised and the vast majority of the sparse research into this supplement has taken place in animals. There have only been a few human studies undertaken, these have shown that Deer Antler has no effect on athletic performance, libido and testosterone increase, or rheumatoid arthritis (1).
Deer Velvet Antler Recommended Doses & Ingredient Timing
When Deer Velvet Antler is sold as a muscle building supplement, a daily dose of 500mg is the usual recommendation, whilst Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends 1-2g per day. Deer Velvet Antler is non-toxic.
Deer Velvet Antler Supplements
This product is generally sold as a stand-alone supplement.
Stacking Deer Velvet Antler?
There is some research showing that IGF-1 exerts a greater effect when casein is ingested concurrently (4). Whether or not Deer Velvet Antler is involved, consuming extra protein when you're trying to gain lean mass or recover from injury is excellent general advice.
(1) Gilbey A, Perezgonzales JD. Health benefits of deer and elk velvet antler supplements: a systematic review of randomised controlled studies. NZ Med J. 2012 Dec 14;125(1367):80-6.
(2) Cox HD, Eichner D. Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid Commun Mass Spec. 2013 Oct 15;27(19):2170-8.
(3) Senel S. Kremer M, Nagy K, Squier C. Delivery of bioactive peptides and proteins across oral (buccal) mucosa. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2001 Jun;2(2):175-86.
(4) Miura, Y.; Kato, H.; Noguchi, T. (2007). "Effect of dietary proteins on insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) messenger ribonucleic acid content in rat liver". British Journal of Nutrition 67 (2): 257