I know of no scientific evidence to support any of the marketing claims made for these supplements. I discussed your question with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women’s health, and an authority on botanical medicine. She explains that IGF-1 in the velvet promotes rapid growth of the antler. Dr. Low Dog notes that the two studies examining the effects of deer antler velvet supplements taken by athletes have yielded conflicting results. One showed some improvements in endurance and knee strength in weightlifters, but the other found no differences in rowers after 10 weeks of supplementation.
Deer antler spray is a supplement. It’s made from the immature tissues surrounding bone and cartilage found inside the tips of live deer antlers. The antlers naturally contain IGF-1. This helps them to grow rapidly. The tissue is taken from the deer antlers before they fully grow and harden. Then it’s flash-frozen to make supplements. (3) Farmed North American elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) and the European red deer (Cervus elaphus) are the main sources of antler for commercial use. The animals are not harmed in the process of extracting the substance from their antlers. Deer antler products are found in pill, powder or spray forms.
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In a double blind study (Edelman, 2000), 54 patients with arthritis in the knee were given deer antler velvet or a placebo and assessed at 1, 3 and 6 months. Patients treated with deer antler velvet showed improvement in pain and physical global assessment at 3 and 6 months. No significant improvement was observed for the placebo group for any of the parameters examined.
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.
Research in Korea, New Zealand and China has shown that deer antler velvet can stimulate the immune system. Extracts of deer antler velvet were variously shown to increase macrophage activity, stimulate the production of lymphocytes and increase the number of red and white blood cells. Each of these effects may directly complement the body’s ability to resist or fight disease and so promote and maintain health and an associated feeling of well being.
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In a study on diabetic mice given topical wounds (scalpel and scissors to create a cricle; diabetes tends to reduce wound healing rates and thus diabetic rats are a good research model for wound closure rates) where either a control cream or one containing 400mcg Velvet Antler (Elk; water soluble extract) noted that there was less angiogenesis and a trend towards less inflammation assocaited with Velvet Antler cream while on day 7 wounds treated with the Antler cream were significantly smaller than control. One 3.2kDa protein has been noted to possess wound healing properties, which are dose-dependent and have been noted to improve wound healing induced by burns at 0.05-0.1% of solution and in vitro at 10-40mcg/mL.
Companies attributing health claims from using dietary supplements of velvet antler have received warning letters from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerning the sale of encapsulated powders connected to their marketing claims. The claims were in violation of the United States Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act [21 USC/321 (g)(1)] because they "establish the product as a drug intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease" when velvet antler has no such scientific evaluation. Additionally stated by the FDA, velvet antler was "not generally recognized as safe and effective for the referenced conditions" and therefore must be treated as a "new drug" under Section 21(p) of the Act. New drugs may not be legally marketed in the United States without prior approval of the FDA. As of 2018, it is legal to sell velvet antler powder, extract or spray in the U.S. as a dietary supplement as long as no disease treatment claims are made and the label bears the FDA disclaimer: "This product has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."
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
The truth? While research is limited, there’s nothing to suggest that deer antler velvet (or deer antler spray in the supplement form) actually does what it claims. In fact, there are two published studies (in real scientific journals, you can see them here and here) that suggest deer antler velvet does not (I repeat, does not) even elicit a hormonal response. What’s more, it also did not increase muscular strength or aerobic power.
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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The appropriate dose of deer velvet depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for deer velvet. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
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.
When antlers fall off, they leave wounds that heal quickly, without forming a scar. Researchers have found that velvet antler contains substances that encourage healing, and could be of use to humans. Of particular interest are 3 hormones known to promote growth of skin tissue: insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1). In a recent study, an ointment made from velvet antler, containing these compounds, enhanced healing when applied to the skin of rats. IGF-1 was a hot topic in the media in the winter of 2013 when a football player, Ray Lewis, was accused of using a banned spray containing IGF-1.