First, the facts: Deer antler has been a popular element of Eastern medicine for centuries. And—like red meat, eggs, or milk—deer antler contains small amounts of insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1, explains Oliver Catlin, president of the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), which tests dietary supplements for illegal performance enhancers.
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Deer antler velvet's effects on cell growth and repair have been investigated in several areas. Deer antler velvet may be a natural source of hormones for those seeking aid to muscle growth and development. Research has identified various growth factors in deer antler velvet including IGF-1 (insulin–like Growth Factor-1), IGF-2 (insulin–like Growth Factor-2), and EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor).
Deer antler spray — a supplement commonly used in the fitness and sports industries that has a long history of use in Eastern medicine — is pretty much as strange as it sounds. Derived from the tissue found inside deer antlers, it’s reported to work by providing IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), a natural growth hormone found inside the human body that has potential to increase muscle mass and support recovery from injuries.
One study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found evidence that use of deer velvet antler may help strengthen joints and bones, reducing symptoms like joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. (10) After rats with osteoarthritic symptoms were given total velvet antler polypeptides from red deer (TVAPL) for 12 weeks, they showed signs of significant reversal in osteoporosis. The researchers found improvements in the rats’ bone weight coefficient (BWC), bone mineral density (BMD), and bone mineral content (BMC). They believe these effects were due to proliferation of cartilage and osteoblast-like cells, in addition to reductions in inflammation due to inhibition of interleukin-1 (IL-1).
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A systemic review on human interventions makes note of a study conducted on patients of osteoarthritis (Edelman et al. 2000; cannot be located online) which found improvements in joint pain symptoms relative to baseline in the Velvet Antler group and not placebo, although a lack of information on blinding and randomization precludes results that can be drawn from this study.