Scientific Name(s): Cervi parvum, Cervus elaphus L. (Wapiti), Cervus nippon T. Common Name(s): Deer velvet, Lu rong, Velvet antler
Despite widespread claims for deer velvet, limited quality clinical trials have been conducted. Studies in arthritis and performance enhancement report no effect of deer velvet supplementation, although the studies may be too small to detect efficacy.
Limited studies are available to provide guidance, and standardization of preparations is lacking. A study in athletes used 1,500 mg deer velvet preparation twice daily. In rheumatoid arthritis, 1 g daily has been studied.
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.1 Deer antler velvet is the epidermis covering the inner structure of the growing bone and cartilage, which develops into antlers.2 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.3, 4, 5, 6 Velvet yield depends on several factors, including season, parasites, or injury.7 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.8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
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.14, 15
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.16 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.17
Reviews of the composition of deer velvet have been published.18, 19 The composition consists of inorganic materials and minerals, polysaccharides, amino acids and other proteins, and lipids and polysaccharides.18, 19
Of particular pharmacological interest are the constituents collagen and glycosaminoglycan,20, 21 and the prostaglandin content described.22, 23 Epidermal growth factor has been isolated from C. nippon velvet antler.24
Uses and Pharmacology
Very few quality randomized and double-blinde controlled clinical trials exist in the literature.25
Analysis of antler reveals the presence of cartilaginous tissue containing glycosaminoglycans, particularly chondroitin and lesser amounts of hyaluronic acid.21
Anti-inflammatory effects have been demonstrated in rats.26 A study in dogs with osteoarthritis compared elk-derived velvet with placebo treatment and reported improved objective and subjective measured outcomes for deer velvet.27
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
In vitro laboratory studies have examined mechanisms by which antlers seasonally regenerate both bone and nerve tissues.30, 31, 32 Expression of neurotropin-3 mRNA in the growing process has been studied.33 Insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1 and IGF-2) appear to be important mediators for antler growth.34, 35
Limited studies on the growth promoting effects of deer velvet have been conducted in tadpoles and chicks with equivocal findings.28 A preparation of deer velvet improved induced, whiplash-type injury in rats and rabbits by enhancing glycolysis in nervous tissue.36, 37
Data is limited.25 Four clinical trials have published findings of deer velvet supplementation on performance, muscle size, and strength; however, the largest of the trials, which enrolled only 46 participants (underpowered), found no effect of supplementation, and only 1 trial (n = 32) found in favour of supplementation.25, 28
Older experiments suggest various effects on immune functioning and response to stress,38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43 and preparations have been shown to stimulate red blood cell synthesis in induced anemia in laboratory animals.44
Limited studies are available to provide guidance, and standardisation of preparations is lacking. A study in athletes used 1,500 mg deer velvet preparation twice daily.28 In rheumatoid arthritis 1 g daily has been studied.26
Pregnancy / Lactation
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.45, 46
Use caution due to lack of scientific evidence supporting toxicities such as those from drug residues, in pregnancy, or allergic reactions.47
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.48
1. Goldsmith L. The velvet case. Arch Dermatol. 1988;124:768.33649992. Young C. Harvesting antler velvet. Vet Rec. 1979;105:581-582.5320793. Jones D, Manton V. Harvesting antler velvet. Vet Rec. 1979;105:475.421894. Rollin B. An ethicist's commentary on animal welfare versus food safety in collecting antler velvet. Can Vet J. 2001;42:330-331.113608545. Wilson P, Biemans J, Stafford K, Veltman C, Spoorenberg J. Xylazine and a xylazine/fentanyl citrate/azaperone combination in farmed deer II: velvet antler removal and reversal combinations. N Z Vet J. 1996;44:88-94.160319026. Burgio PA. A Literature Review of Velvet Antler: The Global Market, Chemical Composition, Health Benefits and Factors Affecting Growth. Elk Research Council; 1998.7. Suttie J, Fennessy P, et al. Antler growth in deer. Proceedings Deer Course for Veterinarians. 1991;8:155-168.8. Suttie J, et al. The New Zealand Velvet Antler Industry: Background and Research Findings. International Symposium on Cervi Parvum Cornu. KSP Proceedings. 1994;86:135.9. Yudin A, et al. A Guide for the Preparation and Storage of Uncalcified Male Antlers as a Medicinal Raw Material. In: Reindeer Antlers. Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Vladivostock: Far East Science Center; 1974.10. Suttie J, et al. G.I.B. Component of Velvet Antler Programme: Evaluation of Velvet Antler. New Zealand: Varne Ltd. 1996.11. Sim JS, et al. Canadian scientists study velvet antler for arthritis treatment. Can Elk Deer Farmer. Winter 1999:39-40.12. Sim JS, Sunwoo HH. Canadian scientist study velvet antler for arthritis treatment. North American Elk. Fall 1998:123-125.986889013. Goss RJ. Deer Antlers: Regeneration, Function, and Evolution. Orlando, FL: Academic Press Inc. 1988.14. Church JS. Velvet Antler: Its Historical Medical Use, Performance Enhancing Effects and Pharmacology. Elk Tech International Research Centre, Calgary, Canada; 1999.15. Goss RJ. Future directions in antler research. Anat Rec. 1995;241:291-302.775516816. Kamen B. Red Deer Antler Velvet: Growth Hormone Connection, and More. Health Sciences Institute; 1998;2:1-2.17. Gray CM, Taylor ML, Horton MA, Loudon ASI, Arnett TR. Studies with cells derived from growing deer antler. J Endocrinol. 1989;123:91.18. Wu F, Li H, Jin L, Li X, Ma Y, You J, Li S, Xu Y. Deer antler base as a traditional Chinese medicine: a review of its traditional uses, chemistry and pharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jan 30;145(2):403-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.12.008. Review. PubMed PMID: 23246455.2324645519. Sui Z, Zhang L, Huo Y, Zhang Y. Bioactive components of velvet antlers and their pharmacological properties. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2014 Jan;87:229-40. doi:10.1016/j.jpba.2013.07.044. Review. PubMed PMID: 24029381.2402938120. Rucklidge GJ, Milne G, Bos KJ, Farquharson C, Robins SP. Deer antler does not represent a typical endochondral growth system: immunoidentification of collagen type X but little collagen type II in growing antler tissue. Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 1997;118:303-308.944022221. Sunwoo, H. H., Sim, L. Y. M., Nakano, T., Hudson, R. J. and Sim, J. S. 1997. Glycosaminoglycans from growing antlers of wapiti (Cervus elaphus). Can. J. Anim. Sci. 77: 715–721.1200343922. Kim YE, Lee SK, Lee MH. Pharmacologically effective components of antler (cervus nippon taiouanus). IV. Detection of prostalandins of antler velvet layer. Hanguk Saenghwa Hakhoe Chi. 1977;10:1-1223. Isai SV, Ivankina NF, Kafanova TV, Yelyakov GB. Prostaglandins from sika deer velvet antlers. Khim.-ar Z.H. 1994;28:60-63.24. Kong YC, Ko KM, Yip TT, Tsao SW. Epidermal growth factor of the cervine velvet antler. Dongwu Xuebao. 1987;33:301-308.25. Gilbey A, Perezgonzalez JD. Health benefits of deer and elk velvet antler supplements: a systematic review of randomised controlled studies. N Z Med J. 2012 Dec 14;125(1367):80-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 23321886.2332188626. Allen M, Oberle K, Grace M, Russell A, Adewale AJ. A randomized clinical trial of elk velvet antler in rheumatoid arthritis. Biol Res Nurs. 2008 Jan;9(3):254-61. PubMed PMID: 18077778.1807777827. Moreau M, Dupuis J, Bonneau NH, Lécuyer M. Clinical evaluation of a powder of quality elk velvet antler for the treatment of osteoarthrosis in dogs. Can Vet J. 2004 Feb;45(2):133-9. PMID: 15025149.1502514928. Percival R. Examining the Effects of Deer Antler Velvet Supplementation On Muscular Strength, Performance and Markers of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Thesis. 2001. East Tennessee State University. UMI Number: 140864329. Syrotuik DG, MacFadyen KL, Harber VJ, Bell GJ. Effect of elk velvet antler supplementation on the hormonal response to acute and chronic exercise in male and female rowers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005;15(4):366-85. PMID: 16286669.1628666930. Gray C, Hukkanen M, Konttinen YT, et al. Rapid neural growth: calcitonin gene-related peptide and substance P-containing nerves attain exceptional growth rates in regenerating deer antler. Neuroscience. 1992;50:953-963.128035231. Adams JL. Innervation and blood supply of the antler pedicle of the red deer. N Z Vet J. 1979;27:200-201.29509932. Garcia RL, Sadighi M, Francis SM, Suttie JM, Fleming JS. Expression of neurotrophin-3 in the growing velvet antler of the red deer Cervus elaphus. J Mol Endocrinol. 1997;19:173-182.934330933. Takikawa K, Kokubu N, et al. Studies on experimental whiplash injury. II. Evaluation of Pantui extracts, Pantocrin as a remedy. Folia Pharmacol Japonica. 1972;68:473-488.467630234. Elliott JL, Oldham JM, Ambler GR, et al. Presence of insulin-like growth factor-I receptors and absence of growth hormone receptors in the antler tip. J Endocrinol. 1992;130:2513-2520.131524635. Elliott JL, Oldham JM, Ambler GR, et al. Receptors for insulin-like growth factor-II in the growing tip of the deer antler. J Endocrinol. 1993;138:233-242.822873236. Takikawa K, Kokubu N, et al. Studies on experimental whiplash injury III. Changes in enzyme activation of cervicxal cords and effect of Pantui extracts, Pantocrin as a remedy. Folia Pharmacol Japonica. 1972;68:489-493.426609937. Sadighi M, Haines SR, Skottner A, Harris AJ, Suttie JM. Effects of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) and IGF-II on the growth of antler cells in vitro. J Endocrinol. 1994;143:461-469.783689138. Wang BX, Chen XG, Xu HB, Zhang W, Zhang J. Effect of polyamines isolated from pilose antler (PASPA) on RNA polymerase activities in mouse liver. Yao Hsueh Hsueh Pao. 1990;25:652-657.170933039. Ha H, Yoon SH, et al. Study for new hapatotropic agent from natural resources. I. Effect of antler and old antler on liver injury induced by benzopyrene in rats. Nihon Eiyo Shokuryo Gakkai Shi. Food & Nutrition 1990;23:9.230523140. Kang WS. Influence of antler (deer horn) on the mesentric mast cells of rates exposed to heat, cold, or electric shock. J Cathol Med Coll. 1970;19:1-9.41. Wang BX, et al. Chem Pharm Bull. 1988;36:2593-2598.246775542. Narimanov AA, Kuznetsova SM, Miakisheva SN. The modifying action of the Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) and pantocrine in radiation lesions. Radiobiologiia. 1990;30:170-174.234937443. Wang BX, Liu AJ, Cheng XJ, Wang QG, Wei GR, Cui JC. Anti-ulcer action of the polysaccharides isolated from pilose antler. Yao Hsueh Hsueh Pao. 1985;20:321-325.408301944. Sunwoo HH, Nakano T, Sim JS. Effect of water soluble extract from antlers of wapiti (Cervus elaphus ) on the growth of fibroblasts. Can J Anim Sci. 1997;77:343-345.45. Kim HS, Lim HK, Park WK. Antinarcotic effects of the velvet antler water extract on morphine in mice. J Enthnopharmacol. 1999;66:41-49.46. Zhang H, Wanwimolruk S, Coville PF, et al. Toxicological evaluation of New Zealand deer velvet powder. Part I: actue and subchronic oral toxicity studies in rats. Food Chem Toxicol. 2000;38:985-990.1103823547. Dalefield RR, Oehme FW. Deer velvet antler: some unanswered questions on toxicology. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1999;41:39-41.994948648. Allen M, Oberle K, Grace M, Russell A. Elk velvet antler in rheumatoid arthritis: phase II trial. Biol Res Nurs. 2002 Jan;3(3):111–118.12003439
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