Velvet antler is a product that has been common in traditional Asian medicine for many years. This product, common in the western world as deer antler spray, is viewed primarily as helping to maintain an overall balance in the body. Velvet antler is notable for its apparent anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-osteoporosis properties among many others (Wu, et al. 2013). Although the animals from which this spray is created are also attractive for their meat and hides, the velvet-like tissue from antlers has been focused on recently due to a possible role in protein synthesis and tissue healing. Whether or not velvet antler is capable of these processes remains unclear within the scientific community.
Though the antlers from many different species of moose, elk or deer may be used to produce this spray, the majority of antlers come from red deer, Cervus elaphus (L), and elk, Cervus canadensis (Erxleben). While C. elaphus is found primarily in Europe and parts of western Asia, C. canadensis is more common to North America and eastern Asia. Nonetheless, these two species have been introduced to countries across the world, notably deer farms in New Zealand where antlers are known to be harvested. Such farms make New Zealand the largest producer of deer antler spray, creating about 450 tons annually.
Fortunately, neither of these species are threatened. Both C. elaphus and C. canadensis have received a score of 3.1 on the International Union for Conversation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Even more comforting is the fact that the methods used to obtain antlers are not harmful to the animals. Males, also called stags, are often used because they grow antlers annually. The stags are anesthetized and restrained while the antlers are cut off. This is usually supervised by a veterinarian and is performed at a time when growth is ideal but calcification has not yet occurred. Generally, only about 75% of the antler is actually removed.
From here, the velvet antler may be sold in many different forms, one of which is ground up into a spray that may be used under the tongue. This spray is believed to contain the growth factor IGF-1, making it attractive to athletes to promote synthesis of proteins, faster healing and more strength. However, several studies have deemed this relationship inconclusive, with one study even citing testosterone as the actual compound for deer antler growth (Bartos, et al. 2008). With over 400 ingredients, it is extremely difficult to identify the actual cause of the positive effects seen from human consumption. Though more testing is necessary, a study done in 2002 showed that deer antler spray may have potential in treating arthritis (Allen, et al. 2002). This study gave variable doses of elk velvet antler to patients with stage II rheumatoid arthritis. It was concluded that velvet antler did cause slight health improvements in patients and can be taken safely alongside other arthritis medication.
Velvet antler, also referred to as deer antler spray, is an animal product that has been around in Asia for decades but is slowly catching fire in the western hemisphere. Though claims have been made such as the anti-inflammatory and growth enhancing properties of this product, there are no definitive answers as to what velvet antler may be beneficial for or why that is. Nevertheless, production of deer antler spray is a profitable business in countries such as New Zealand and China which produce hundreds of tons worth of product annually. Despite the fact that removal of antlers is not detrimental to the deer or elk from which they are taken, it is important to continue research and establish a clear role for velvet antler in humans sooner rather than later.
Allen M., Oberle K., Grace M., Russell A. 2002. Elk Velvet Antler in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Phase II Trial. Biological Research for Nursing. 3(3):111-8.
Bartos L., Schams D., Bubenik GA. 2008. Testosterone, but not IGF-1, LH, prolactin or cortisol, may serve as antler stimulating hormone in red deer stags (Cervus elaphus). Bone. 44(4):691-8.
“Velvet Antler.” Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.
Wu, F. et al. 2013. Deer antler base as a traditional Chinese medicine: A review of its traditional uses, chemistry and pharmacology. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 145(2):403-415.