Deer antlers are the only mammalian bone structures to regenerate completely every year.1 Deer antler velvet is the epidermis covering the inner structure of the growing bone and cartilage, which develops into antlers.2 This tissue grows each spring on male Cervus sp. (North American elk and red deer) and should be removed by a veterinarian or certified farmer. The ethics, including use of local anesthetics, and procedures of harvesting antler velvet have been reported.3, 4, 5, 6 Velvet yield depends on several factors, including season, parasites, or injury.7 After removal of the deer velvet, it is collected and then frozen or dried prior to its manufacture into various "medicinal" forms including powders, extracts, teas, capsules, and tablets. Each part of elk velvet contains varying compounds, but the deer antler velvet contains the largest concentrations of those found to be beneficial. (Antler also has been sold by the slice). Heating during processing may reduce or destroy the purported beneficial effects of velvet antler. Various preparation methods, including freeze-drying and non-heat-producing methods have been reported.8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
In a randomized, placebo controlled test in 2004, researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, placed 18 males from the Edmonton Police Force into a 9 week strength training program. The results showed that deer antler velvet increased the strength and endurance of the subjects relative to the control group. The researchers found that use of deer antler velvet significantly increased blood plasma testosterone levels.
All male members of the deer family, including elk, moose and reindeer (caribou), grow a new set of antlers each year’from scratch, in just a matter of months’then shed them at the end of the annual mating season. The ability to regenerate such large appendages each year is unique to this family among mammals and rare in the animal kingdom as a whole (horns, in contrast to antlers, are permanent and cannot be regrown). Understanding how it happens could have significant implications for human medicine, particularly in the fields of wound healing and organ regeneration.
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Generally researchers agree that deer antler velvet protects, strengthens and restores the body's functions that are out of balance. In other words, it can act as an adaptogen on the human body, helping where it is needed. Studies suggest that deer antler velvet may have beneficial effects related to: increases in muscular development, strength and endurance; improved recovery; prevention and reduction of inflammation; improvement of sexual health; reduction in blood pressure; improvement in bone and joint health; stimulation of the immune system; and more.
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When antlers fall off, they leave wounds that heal quickly, without forming a scar. Researchers have found that velvet antler contains substances that encourage healing, and could be of use to humans. Of particular interest are 3 hormones known to promote growth of skin tissue: insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1). In a recent study, an ointment made from velvet antler, containing these compounds, enhanced healing when applied to the skin of rats. IGF-1 was a hot topic in the media in the winter of 2013 when a football player, Ray Lewis, was accused of using a banned spray containing IGF-1.