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).
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.
There is some evidence that deer antler spray may work for improving performance and physique. However, it seems that an individual needs to take very high doses in order for these benefits to occur. In studies where the supplement was effective, injections of very concentrated extracts were used. Injections may be the most effective, and likely the only, way that deer antler works. This is because IGF-1 is mostly destroyed when it passes through the digestive system. Because of this, swallowing deer antler supplements would practically be useless.
A 2014 study published in Evidence Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine tested whether or not deer antler extract would have an effect on fatigue in mice who were led to swim distances. The findings suggested that deer antler “might increase the muscle strength through the upregulation of genes responsible for muscle contraction and consequently exhibited the anti-fatigue effect in mice.” Deer antler seems to have a positive effect on genes involved in nine different signaling pathways that affect muscles, endurance and fatigue. These include GnRH signaling pathway and insulin signaling pathways, in addition to levels of troponins. (8) Deer antler may contribute to increases in muscle strength by increasing Tpm2 expression. This affects how muscles take up proteins and repair themselves. Other studies show some evidence that deer antler extract helps prevent muscle fatigue by activating the lactate dehydrogenase activities and reducing the levels of blood lactic acid and serum urea nitrogen.