Medically reviewed on June 4, 2018
Scientific Name(s):Antler velvet of species Cervus nippon T., Cervus elaphus L. (Wapiti), Cervi parvum
Common Name(s): Deer velvet , velvet antler , Cornu cervi parvum , lu rong (hairy young horn)
The use of velvet antler was scientifically supported in compliance with FDA regulations for its beneficial effects in treating arthritis. Other therapeutically valuable actions include immune stimulation, antiaging, protective and rejuvenating effects, and beneficial effects in blood and circulation.
A recent study used 2 to 6 capsules containing 215 mg of deer velvet per day. 1
Contraindications have not yet been identified.
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
Chronic wasting disease may be present in antler products.
Toxicity studies of deer antler powder in rats demonstrated no mortality or adverse events on a short term basis.
Deer antlers are the only mammalian bone structures to regenerate completely every year. 2 Deer antler velvet is the epidermis covering the inner structure of the growing bone and cartilage, which develops into antlers. 3 This tissue grows each spring on male Cervus sp . (North American elk and red deer) and should be removed by a veterinarian or certified farmer. The ethics, including use of local anesthetics, and procedures of harvesting antler velvet have been reported. 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 Velvet yield depends on several factors, including season, parasites, or injury. 8 After removal of the deer velvet, it is collected and then frozen or dried prior to its manufacture into various “medicinal” forms including powders, extracts, teas, capsules, and tablets. Each part of elk velvet contains varying compounds, but the deer antler velvet contains the largest concentrations of those found to be beneficial. (Antler also has been sold by the slice). Heating during processing may reduce or destroy the purported beneficial effects of velvet antler. Various preparation methods, including freeze-drying and non-heat-producing methods have been reported. 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14
The word antler is derived from the Latin Anteoculae , meaning “in front of the eyes.” Antlers are present in almost all members of the deer family Cervidae . The first documented evidence of deer velvet as a medicinal was found on a scroll recovered from a tomb in Hunan China dating back 2000 years. The use of antler dates back to the Han Dynasty 206 BC to 220 AD. A 16th century medical text, Pen Ts'ao Kang Mu , lists several antler preparations including pills, tinctures, and ointments. In traditional Chinese medicine, velvet antler has been used for over 2000 years as a tonic, to improve bone health, to nourish the blood, reduce swelling, and to treat impotence. Later research on deer antler dates back to the 1980s in Russia. Hundreds of articles have since been published including those documented by Chinese, Korean, and Japanese scientists. In 1999, the use of velvet antler was scientifically supported by clinical research in compliance with FDA regulations for its beneficial effects in treating arthritis. However, empirical evidence suggests several other therapeutically valuable actions including immune stimulation, antiaging, protective and rejuvenating effects, and beneficial effects in blood and circulation. 15 , 16 Further study into future directions in antler research has been addressed, mentioning unsolved problems of antler evolution, development, and other areas of investigation. 17
Chemical comparison of various sections of growing antler (eg, tip, upper, middle, base) finds different concentrations of collagen, ash, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, protein, lipids, amino and fatty acids, uronic acid, proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, and others. Collagen and minerals had higher concentrations at the base, where as the antler tip was found to be rich in chondroitin, containing 6-fold greater amounts than in the middle and base sections. 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 Chondroitin structures and other anti-inflammatory substances have been reported from deer velvet as well. 23 , 24 Fat-soluble constituents from antler velvet 25 and certain lipids from both antler velvet and antler have been reported. 26 , 27 Hairy young horn of C. nippon also contains amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, vitamin A, sex hormones, estrone and estradiol, sphingomyelin, ganglioside, and prostaglandins. 28 Prostaglandins A, E, and F (primarily PGF1 alpha and PGF2 alpha) have all been reported from velvet antler. 29 , 30 In vivo and in vitro production of 1,25-dihydroxy–vitamin D precursors, and calcium from deer antler cells has been also investigated. 31 Gelatin components of antler velvet vs antler were compared. They were found to contain similar amino acids (glycine, proline, glutamic acid) trace elements, and polysaccharides. 32 Cervi parvum horn contains lecithin, choline, and uracil. 33 , 34 Epidermal growth factor has been isolated from C. nippon velvet antler. 35 Habitat has marked influence on quality of velvet antler. 36
Uses and Pharmacology
In Chinese medicine, deer velvet has been used to treat impotence, female disorders, urinary problems, skin ailments, and knee weakness. It is also employed as a tonic in children with learning disabilities or insufficient growth. 37 Koreans use antler velvet to treat anemia and impotence and to stimulate the immune system, treat impotence, improve heart function, muscle tone, lung efficiency, and nerve function. 38Cell growth and repair
Velvet antler's effects on cell growth and repair have been investigated in several areas. Antler regeneration not only involves bone, but nerves as well, which can grow up to 1 cm/day, an exceptional rate of growth. 39 , 40 , 41Animal data
In velvet antler, expression of neurotropin-3 mRNA in the growing process has been studied. 42 Pantocrin, a preparation of deer velvet, improved induced, whiplash-type injury in rats and rabbits by enhancing glycolysis in nervous tissue. 43 , 44 Insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1 and IGF-2) are important mediators for antler growth as well. 45 , 46 , 47 Insulin-like growth factors and their receptors have been isolated from deer blood during periods of antler growth. These growth factors augment cell division, suggesting a possible role in cell regeneration and repair processes in humans. In chickens administered velvet antler, growth rate and testes weight were both increased. 16Clinical data
Factors contributing to deer antler's effects in growth, include the fact that the tissue contains many cell types besides nutrients such as fibroblasts, chrondroblast, and chondrocytes. 16 Deer velvet has been shown to improve wound healing in a like manner. 16 , 28 Stimulation of body tissue/cell growth, such as reticuloendothelial cells and leukocytes improve metabolism and overall health. It comes as no surprise then, that velvet antler has been promoted for performance-enhancing effect on the human body. 28 Russian bodybuilders have claimed to benefit from velvet antler by increasing muscle and nerve strength. 48 Earlier studies found similar results in laboratory animals and athletes given pantocrin. 11 , 16 , 49 Later reports in this area were not reliable with regard to scientific methods (eg, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, mainstream medical literature searches). Instead, certain commercially-oriented Web sites (eg, http://www.sexualboost.com/anti-aging.htm ) contained incomplete information related to performance enhancement. Some of these include positive outcomes in police recruits, male university athletes, and New Zealand rugby players and rowers given deer velvet. In addition, sexual enhancement and antiaging effects of deer velvet were claimed.Acceleration of the body's natural restorative processes
Deer velvet is reported to have accelerated the body's natural restorative processes, reduced liver damage in mice, and through its active compounds, promoted synthesis of proteins and RNA. 50 , 51 Another report confirms these effects in induced liver injury in rats. 52 Velvet antler products also are claimed to demonstrate the ability to prevent/reduce shock and stress responses. Pretreatment in rats reduced cell degradation and improved recovery times from extreme temperature and electric shock exposure. 53 Velvet antler has shown marked effects on biochemical parameters related to aging in “senescence-accelerated” mice, a model for senility. 54 Deer velvet's protective effects are also apparent in the area of cancer research. Pantocrine (deer velvet preparation) increased the survival rate of mice exposed to radiation. 55 Extracts of deer antler have reduced tumor cell growth. 10 Reports of enhancement of immune function from velvet antler demonstrate significant immune stimulatory activity from several preparations, 12 as well as enhancement of phagocytes and immunoglobulin levels in mice. 56 An increase in monocytes in rats, cells necessary to the immune function of lymph, spleen, bone marrow, and loose connective tissue also has been reported. 16Clinical data
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of deer velvet for acceleration of the body's natural restorative processes.Blood/circulation effects
Beneficial effects of deer velvet in the area of blood/circulation are also apparent. Preparations have been shown to stimulate red blood cell synthesis in induced anemia in laboratory animals. 14 , 57 Antler extract also has increased neutrophil levels in mice, improving their ability to resist injury and disease. 10 Growth of fibroblasts from antler also has been reported. 58Clinical data
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of deer velvet for blood/circulation effects.Arthritis
Glycosaminoglycans, chondroitin sulfate, and glucosamine sulfate are supplements used in arthritis treatment. As a source for the agents, velvet antler has been considered to help treat rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. (GAGRA, a glycosaminoglycan-containing product from antlers, is commercially available). The main glycosaminoglycan in velvet antler, chondroitin sulfate, binds to certain proteins to form proteoglycans (as do other lesser glycosaminoglycans [eg, decorin, keratin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, and dermatan sulfate]). These molecules regulate water retention and are important to proliferate and differentiate chondrocytes. Chondrocytes are cells that synthesize collagen and, eventually, cartilage. Type 2 collagen is necessary in the formation of elastic cartilage and is abundant in cartilaginous antler. 13 , 18 , 20 , 59 , 60 Degenerative conditions caused by alterations in collagen synthesis include rheumatoid and osteoarthristis. Other research suggests that supplementation with type 2 collagen, like that found in antler, may help treat these conditions as well. 61 , 62 , 63
Prostaglandins, also present in velvet antler, are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, reducing swelling in injury, infection, pain, and arthritis. 16 Research reveals no animal or clinical data regarding the use of deer velvet for arthritis.Other uses
The polysaccharides in velvet antler seem to be responsible for its antiulcer effects. 64 Treatment with rantarin (a deer velvet preparation), prior to GI tumor surgery, reduced stress responses in patients. 26
A recent study used 2 to 6 capsules containing 215 mg of deer velvet per day. 1
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
A possible interaction of velvet antler with morphine has been reported. Velvet antler has inhibited the development of tolerance to repeated doses of morphine in mice. It has been suggested that it may even be useful for prevention and therapy of the adverse actions of morphine. 66 , 67
Use caution due to lack of scientific evidence supporting toxicities such as those from drug residues, in pregnancy, or allergic reactions. 68
No direct reports of chronic wasting disease (CWD) related to deer velvet supplementation have been published. However, several Web sites contain disclaimers mentioning the possibility of the disease being present in antler products. The CDC has not yet found a relationship between CWD and any neurological disease that affects humans with deer velvet use.
Toxicity studies of deer antler powder in rats have been assessed. A 2 g/kg dose demonstrated no mortality or adverse events on a short-term (14 days) basis. In a 90-day study, a 1 g/kg/day regimen also found no observable, significant adverse effects, except for a minor change in liver weight. 69
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