Reports claim deer antler helped Ray Lewis overcome his recent triceps tear, and Vijay Singh has admitted to using a spray supplement. University of Alabama football players also allegedly used deer antler sprays leading up to the 2013 BCS National Title Game. Whether or not those reports are true, one thing is certain: There’s not much proof that deer antler is a performance enhancer or a miraculous healer.
To be clear, some doctors and researchers have stated that they feel deer antler spray is unlikely to cause any significant benefits. This is because it only provides very small amounts of IGF-1, some of which may not even be fully absorbed. However, studies do show that higher doses, or using very high-quality supplements, may contribute to some improvements in performance, body composition, etc. IGF-1 itself has been studied extensively. It can certainly change the way the body looks and operates. Whether or not the role of IGF-1 in the body will translate into any real benefits when obtained from deer antler products will depend on the specific person and dosage used.
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.
Studies have found that deer antlers themselves contain a highly concentrated amount of essential trace minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and growth factors that can all support the immune system. This includes the gastrointestinal tract, where the majority of the immune system is found. Antlers contain minerals such as: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, potassium and sodium in addition to numerous minor components.
A systemic review on human interventions makes note of a study conducted on patients of osteoarthritis (Edelman et al. 2000; cannot be located online) which found improvements in joint pain symptoms relative to baseline in the Velvet Antler group and not placebo, although a lack of information on blinding and randomization precludes results that can be drawn from this study.