Deer antler velvet supplements are marketed to body builders, weightlifters, athletes and others. Advertisements claim that deer antler velvet can increase strength gain, speed recovery, improve joint health and increase “vigor.” Deer antler velvet has been used as traditional medicine in China for quite some time. When I first heard about it I thought this was a load of hooey and hoped that no deer were harmed in production. It turns out that Deer Antler Velvet Supplements may work after all. Their effectiveness may depend on how much human growth factor has been added to them.
How deer antler velvet supplements might work.
Deer antler velvet is a velvety substance that covers the developing antlers of male deer. Antlers require a lot of bone building in a relatively short period of time. The growth is hormone driven. Deer antler velvet contains a hormone called Insulin Like Growth Factor. You may know it as IGF or IGF-1. Normal deer produce deer IGF. It is a little different than human IGF. IGF is used to treat some forms of dwarfism and stunting in children. It increases growth. It shows promise in some medical treatments for nerve damage. IGF declines with age and some people believe that increasing growth hormones will slow or halt aging. IGF may help preserve muscle mass and strength. However, IGF can also increase the growth of abnormal cells and increase risk of cancer.
Does deer IGF have the same effect as human IGF?
It probably does. Deer IGF and human IGF are very similar. Deer antler IGF can probably interact with human IGF receptors. However this isn’t known for sure. A very interesting paper on Deer Antler Velvet was published this month (October 2013). Researchers analyzed Deer Antler Velvet supplements and found that many of them actually contained human IGF or IGF from other species in addition to deer IGF. Athlete use of IGF is illegal. If you are a competitive athlete you should not use deer antler velvet supplements unless you are sure it has not been “beefed” up with illegal additives. Other people should avoid deer antler velvet supplements too because using them may increase risk of cancer.
Cox HD, & Eichner D (2013). Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM, 27 (19), 2170-8 PMID: 23996390