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
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Data is limited. Two studies (n=40 and 168) investigating the efficacy of elk velvet antler supplementation on rheumatoid arthritis found no effect, while a study conducted in people with osteoarthritis (n=53) reported symptomatic relief among participants. The small sample sizes may result in the trials being underpowered to detect effects.25, 28, 29
In Chinese medicine, deer velvet has been used to treat impotence, female disorders, urinary problems, skin ailments, and knee weakness. It is also employed as a tonic in children with learning disabilities or insufficient growth.16 Koreans use antler velvet to treat anemia and impotence and to stimulate the immune system, treat impotence, improve heart function, muscle tone, lung efficiency, and nerve function.17
According to an article in Sports Illustrated, Lewis spoke by telephone after his injury with Mitch Ross, co-owner of the supplement company S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids) to ask about treatments that could speed his recovery. Sports Illustrated reported that among Ross’ recommendations were deer antler pills to “rebuild your brain via your small intestines.” In addition to recommending the pills, Ross reportedly also told Lewis to spray deer antler extract under his tongue. Lewis has denied following this advice, and Ravens’ management has said that the star player has never flunked a drug test.
In 168 persons with stable Rheumatoid Arthritis but present pain (25-100mm on the VAS rating scale) given either 1g of Velvet Antler from Elk or placebo for 6 months noted that there were no significant differences between placebo and Velvet Antler in regards to pain. Another study by the same research group using a smaller sample (n=40) and graded doses of 430mg, 860mg, and 1290mg daily noted that there was a dose-dependent trend towards reduced pain symptoms but this was not statistically significant.
There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of deer antler velvet from decades of research carried out in Russia, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This research has given credibility to deer antler velvet’s traditional usage and validated recommendations for its inclusion as an everyday health supplement. Almost 250 papers have been published since 1930 on the manufacture, composition and biochemical effect of deer antler velvet. Studies on deer antler velvet and the corresponding findings are described below.
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