In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVII we’ve heard a lot about deer antler velvet and the question of whether or not Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis used an extract of it (in spray form) to help heal the triceps muscle he tore in October 2012. This could be a problem for Lewis, since deer antler velvet contains a substance that is banned by the National Football League (NFL).
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