Deer Antler Velvet: Does it Work?

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Thanks to Ray Lewis, deer antler velvet has taken center stage during the Superbowl. Although the media is primarily concerned if Ray really did use it, most of us are asking a different question. Does it work?

As Confitdent’s resident Supplement Doc, I love to explore studies and break down the basics for everyone to further understand supplements or products like Deer Antler Velvet. For this particular case, I’m happy to share some of the information that I have collected while breaking out key takeaways for us to better digest the benefits or lack thereof when it comes to Deer Antler Velvet.

Although I will admit I have very little experience with deer antler velvet, I did spend the morning perusing Pubmed to see if it had a “a leg to stand on.” After about 6 hours of reading through various studies and journals, the answer is a resounding no.

Here are a few conclusions researchers made in the relatively few studies I could find (I apologize ahead of time for the citations. Technically, they are not correct, but I’ve given you enough information to find the studies):

Deer Antler Velvet Studies

deer antler velvet

Claims made for velvet antler supplements do not appear to be based upon rigorous research from human trials, although for osteoarthritis the findings may have some promise. – The New Zealand Medical Journal, “Health benefits of deer and elk velvet antler supplements: a systematic review of randomised controlled studies.”

EVA (Elk Velvet Antler) supplementation does not significantly improve rowing performance nor alter hormonal responses at rest or after acute exercise than training alone. - International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, “Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers.”

Although some patients reported clinical improvements in their symptoms, there were no statistically significant differences between groups. Overall, elk velvet antler does not effectively manage residual symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. – Biological Research for Nursing, “A randomized clinical trial of elk velvet antler in rheumatoid arthritis.”

Further, the inconsistent findings regarding the effects of deer antler velvet powder supplementation on the development of strength suggests that further work is required to test the robustness of the observation that this supplement enhances the strength training response and to ensure this observation is not a type I error. – International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Science, “The effects of deer antler velvet extract or powder supplementation on aerobic power, erythropoiesis, and muscular strength and endurance characteristics.”

Side note: Although this study did reach statistical significance in strength and endurance measurements, blood levels of testosterone, insulin-like growth factor, and erythropoietin did not change. Thus, I’d be willing to say chance played a significant factor in the strength and endurance measurements.

And the one bright spot evaluating wounds in rats….

This study indicates that topical treatment with an EVA water-soluble extract accelerates repair of cutaneous wounds in diabetic rats. – Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, “Effects of topical elk velvet antler on cutaneous wound healing in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.”

Side note: I didn’t find a follow-up study to this so I wouldn’t get real excited.

Deer Antler Velvet Hype

It’s all about regeneration. Deer are the only mammals that are capable of regenerating an organ. And it’s just not a small organ. It can be as big as 60lbs. That’s impressive, really impressive.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to hypothesize there are probably a few cool things going on within the antler during those periods of rapid growth.  That hypothesis would be correct. A hormonal symphony ensues with testosterone, estradiol, Vitamin D, T3 and T4, cortisol, prolactin, and most importantly, IGF-1 playing active, yet still not completely understood roles. There’s also a handful of various growth factors that aid in the rapid growth.

So what does an aspiring entrepreneur see? Dollar signs! All the magic words have been spoken: regeneration, testosterone, and IGF-1.

The problem is humans aren’t deer. We just can’t grind up something and drink it (or rub it on), and expect it to work exactly like it does in deer (although some clinicians have used a similar process for adrenal extracts in patients with adrenal fatigue). The body is too complex. Plus, there are too many unknowns in the process of antler growth. Is it because of one hormone or the interaction between all of them? Are there growth factors we don’t know about yet? Is it because of the quantity or reactivity of the receptors or the hormones themselves?

IGF-1 in Deer Antler Velvet

Let’s assume there is IGF-1 in the deer antler velvet spray. A few questions automatically pop into my mind:

  • Can it be absorbed orally, especially since HGH is injected to increase IGF-1?
  • If a significant amount can be absorbed, is there enough IGF-1 in the deer antler velvet spray to work?
  • Do we have any idea on how much IGF-1 is needed to aid in regeneration?

Although one study supposedly showed oral absorption in rats, I find it hard to believe that billion dollar drug companies haven’t created an oral version yet. Instead patients have to inject themselves with HGH to increase IGF-1 levels.

The second question can be answered with an analysis of the spray, which if it’s true, I can’t believe the company doesn’t have it plastered all over the site. I understand there are probably legal reasons, but I would think someone should have something. In addition, how often do we need to consume it? How long is it active before it’s broken down? For all we know, we made need an IV drip of IGF-1 to make a difference.

As far as question 3 is concerned, we’re not even close to answering that.

The Conclusion

Save your money. Purchase extra fish oil, vitamin D, green tea, and protein instead. Even supplements like curcumin, Rhodiola rosea, fenugreek, and Ashwaghanda are better options.