The latest and greatest performance enhancer, if you've been living under a rock, is deer antler velvet. On the surface, it seems like it could make sense. The coating on the antlers of young male deer that contribute to the growth of that part of their body could help athletes. First, the NFL prohibited Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson from endorsing it. Now, according to SI.com, Major League Baseball is warning players about using it.
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).
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
Deer antler velvet has been used in China for over 2,000 years. More recently, Soviet scientists in the 1980s tested the effects of deer antler velvet on the performance of elite Russian athletes, and the results were astonishing. Deer antler velvet helped increase the strength and muscle mass of Russian athletes, and speed their recovery time from exercise.
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.
New Zealand research reports that although the mechanism is unknown, deer antler velvet shows strong anti-inflammatory effects. Recent clinical tests suggest oral ingestion of glycosaminoglycan-peptide complex, or components such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate — both found in deer antler velvet — may help stimulate cartilage repair.
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As this supplement is derived from 'deer', the two most commonly used species of deer in mainland China include the Sika deer Cervus nippon Temminck and Red Deer Cervus elaphus Linnaeus; these species may be relevant. 'Farming' of deers for antlers includes raising deer and sawing off the antlers under analgesia, the annual yeild appears to be 120-150 tonnes and deer are not usually killed as antlers are capable of full regeneration.
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