Even sellers of deer antler products doubt that the products could deliver IGF-1. "IGF-1 is very unstable," Dean Nieves of Florida-based Bio Lab Naturals told the Baltimore Sun. "It could not exist outside of a very controlled environment." Nieves' company therefore markets the product as a nutritional supplement. "It is just packed with nutrients," he said.
The growing market has bred plenty of competition. A company called Now Foods is now making deer antler velvet lozenges. GNC just started selling deer antler velvet capsules called New Vigor from a company called Vitalast and Amazon.com has more than 30 products will deer antler velvet in it including the raw powder from New Zealand, where the most coveted deer velvet is harvested.
One double-blind study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism tested whether or not deer antler velvet powder or extract had an impact on aerobic performance, endurance and “trainability of muscular strength” compared to a placebo. The subjects were adult males. They were given either a placebo, or deer antler extract or powder supplementation over a 10-week period while undergoing a strength-building routine. The men were measured for muscular strength, endurance, and VO2max before and after using deer antler. These results were determined by measuring circulating levels of testosterone, insulin-like growth factor, erythropoietin, red cell mass, plasma volume, and total blood volume.
Currently, one study that induced a fracture unto a rat bone and injected 20mg/kg of Velvet Antler polypeptides into the area every other day for 7 weeks noted that fracture healing rate was dose-dependently increased at weeks 4-7 relative to control and that the bone loading weight was increased following rehabilitation with 10mg/kg (60.7%) and 20mg/kg (93% more than control) after 7 weeks. An in vitro study suggested that this was due to a concentration-dependent mitogenic activity on osteoblastic precursors and chondrocytes.
Even more intriguing is how the stags manage to regrow their antlers. Scientists have found stem cells at the bases of antlers’essentially ‘blank’ cells that can develop into many different types of cell, such as a skin cell or a cartilage cell. If they could find out what triggers the stem cells and controls their development into antlers, the knowledge could be applied to the regeneration of human limbs and organs. Scientists know that the shedding is initiated by a fall in the hormone testosterone, a change linked to an increase in day length, and they think oestrogen may be a key cellular regulator. However, much more research on a molecular level is required to unravel what is clearly an intricate process.
A growing trend in western medicine is the proliferation of influences from ancient eastern medicine. Over 2,000 years ago, the Chinese were administering deer antler velvet to treat conditions ranging from serious illnesses to lack of sexual desire. After closely examining the wide range of health benefits deer antler velvet promotes, it's no wonder why the Chinese used it as a medicine for thousands of years.
However, calcium and phosphorus levels (which are important for bone growth) did not differ among groups. Overall, the researchers concluded that “our results seem to support a role for dietary supplementation of EVA on growth and bone development in this model.” (9) However, it’s important to point out that this is a very high dose. It’s significantly above what most would take in supplement form.
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Russian bodybuilders have claimed to benefit from deer antler velvet by increasing muscle and nerve strength in the late 1960’s. Earlier studies found similar results in laboratory animals and athletes given pantocrin, an extract of deer antler velvet. Several studies show a positive correlation between consistent use of deer antler velvet and cardiovascular health. Human subjects who used deer antler velvet were able to endure larger work loads and experienced a shorter recovery time between exercises.
In another randomized, double blind, placebo controlled experiment (Broeder, 2004), 38 males, all of whom were experienced weightlifters, entered a 10 week strength training program. Those who took deer antler velvet experienced an increase in peak torque and average power relative to the placebo group. They also experienced unexpected improvements in aerobic performance.
Moose, elk and deer produce new antlers yearly (primarily males, except in caribou/reindeer). In New Zealand, deer are subject to local anesthesia and restrained during antler removal, and the procedure is supervised by licensed veterinarians. Typically, the antler is cut off near the base after it is about two-thirds of its potential full size, between 55 and 65 days of growth, before any significant calcification occurs. The procedure is generally done around June in the Northern Hemisphere and December in the Southern Hemisphere.
IGF-1 is currently on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list due to how it gives athletes an unfair advantage in terms of building strength and muscle mass. (7) However, it’s still legal to use supplements that may provide IGF-1 or similar effects. Most of the studies that show positive results from using deer antler supplements have used high doses. And some have tested the product on animals (mice or rats) rather than humans.