Deer antler velvet is used for its purported ability to raise testosterone levels to treat decreased libido (low sex drive), infertility, and erectile dysfunction in men. It is used in combination with other herbs to treat sexual dysfunction and hormonal dysfunction in men and women. It is used to treat conditions resulting from deficient kidneys. Some people use it because of its reputed benefit as an aphrodisiac and muscle strength enhancer. It is also sometimes prescribed to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms in the treatment of morphine addiction.
An ethanolic extract has been noted to, following oral ingestion of 100mg/kg, suppress nitric oxide secretion from peritoneal macrophages while stimulating phagocytic activity secondary to calcium mobilization, and has been noted to increase macrophage cell count in a concentration dependent manner up to 171.5% at 150mcg/mL with a water extract (and 132.4% for splenocytes). This immunostimulation appears to be related to phosphatidylcholine molecules with saturated fatty acid acyl chains and is thought to underlie an anti-infective effect in mice infected with Staphylococcus aureus when Velvet Antler is ingested at 500mg/kg.
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.
The harvesting of deer antler velvet can be a painful process, as the velvet tissue contains an abundance of nerves and bleeds profusely if cut or removed. Dr. Low Dog says she has no problem with harvesting velvet from deer killed for food, but is concerned that shortcuts will be taken should demand for the supplements continue to grow. She notes that the United Kingdom has banned the removal of deer antler velvet under its welfare-of-livestock regulations, unless the antlers have been damaged or most of the velvet has been shed.
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In Asia, velvet antler is dried and sold as slices, or as a powder which may be boiled in water, usually with other herbs and ingredients, and consumed as a medicinal soup. In the traditional commercial trade of Korea and China, whole stick antler velvet is divided into three sections based upon their supposed properties. Although there is an absence of uniform standardization, these sections are known as the wax piece (uppers or tips), the blood piece (middles), and the bone piece (bottoms): the wax piece may be marketed as a growth tonic for children, the blood piece supposedly for joint and bone health, and the bone piece supposedly for calcium deficiency and geriatric needs. Early commercial activity in Russia between the 1930s and 1980s led to the production of an alcohol extract from deer antler velvet marketed under the Russian drug trade name Pantocrin (also pantocrine or pantokrin).