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Deer Velvet

Scientific Name(s): Cervi parvum, Cervus elaphus L. (Wapiti), Cervus nippon T., Rusa unicolor swinhoei
Common Name(s): Antler velvet, Deer velvet, Lu rong, Velvet antler

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 20, 2024.

Clinical Overview


Despite widespread therapeutic claims for deer velvet, limited quality clinical trials have been conducted; therefore, deer velvet cannot be recommended for any indication.


Limited studies are available to provide guidance, and standardization of preparations is lacking.


Contraindications have not been identified.


Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

None well documented.


No data.


Velvet antlers are the unique organs that display an annual cycle of full regeneration, probably as a stem cell−based process, in mammals. Antler growth is a very rapid process in which the constitutive tissues (eg, cartilage, bone, nerves, skin, and blood vessels) also grow at the same rate.(Sui 2014) Velvet is the epidermis covering the inner structure of the growing bone and cartilage, which develops into antlers.(Li 2014) This tissue grows each spring on male Cervus spp. (North American elk and red deer) and if harvested for use, should be removed by a veterinarian or certified farmer. The ethics of the removal procedures, including use of local anesthetics, have been reported.(Allen 2008, Chen 2015, Rollin 2001, Wilson 1996) Heating during processing may reduce or destroy the purported beneficial effects of velvet antler. Various preparation methods, including freeze-drying and non–heat-producing techniques, have been reported.(Dai 2011, Goss 1983, Kuo 2018, Xiao 2017) Antler velvet is available in various forms, including powders, extracts, teas, capsules, and tablets.


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. As a traditional animal-based medicine, velvet antler has been used in the East for more than 2,000 years for various purposes, including to prevent or treat cardiovascular disease, gynecological conditions, immunological deficiencies, and blood cancers; for tissue repair; and for general health promotion.(Wu 2013) The Chinese medical classics Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing and Compendium of Materia Medica record anti-aging effects of velvet antler, as well as beneficial effects on kidney function and body strengthening.(Kuo 2018) Velvet antler from sika deer and red deer are designated as medicinal antlers in the pharmacopeias of countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. Velvet antler has been used as a supplement to prevent various diseases, and has also been employed in children with "failure to thrive" or learning disabilities.(Goss 1995, Sui 2014, Tierra 2013)


Reviews of the composition of deer velvet have been published.(Sui 2014, Wu 2013) Inorganic materials and minerals, collagen, hyaluronic acid, amino acids and other proteins, lipids, peptides, and polysaccharides have been identified.(Li 2020, Sui 2014, Wu 2013)

Of particular pharmacological interest are the constituents collagen and glycosaminoglycan, as well as the prostaglandin content.(Rucklidge 1997, Sui 2014, Sunwoo 1997) Proteins and polypeptides are considered to be the most prominent bioactive components of velvet antler.(Li 2020) Epidermal growth factor has been isolated from C. nippon velvet antler.(Ko 1986)

Analysis of antler (tip and upper sections) reveals the presence of cartilaginous tissue containing glycosaminoglycans, particularly chondroitin and lesser amounts of hyaluronic acid.(Sunwoo 1997)

Uses and Pharmacology

Very few quality randomized and double-blind controlled clinical trials of velvet antler exist in the literature.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor activity

Experimental data

Identification of potential bioactive peptides and proteins extractable from deer velvet antler (fermented and unfermented) was conducted in silico. A number of potential angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor candidates were identified from the fermented and unfermented samples, with significant ACE inhibitory activity (P<0.001) confirmed in vitro alongside the positive control, captopril. Effects were unchanged subsequent to simulated GI digestion.(Haines 2019)

Anti-inflammatory effects

Animal and in vitro data

Anti-inflammatory effects have been demonstrated in rats.(Allen 2008) An in vitro comparative study investigated anti-inflammatory effect differences between velvet antler water extracts from 2 different deer species, the Formosan sambar deer indigenous to Taiwan and the red deer. Extracts from both species significantly reduced tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) production, with the sambar deer extract demonstrating a stronger effect. Neither extract was found to be cytotoxic at doses tested. Anti-inflammatory activity of the sambar deer extract was found to significantly decrease (P<0.05) over 6 months, but it was not affected by temperature (−20°, 4°, and 25°C).(Kuo 2018)

Antioxidant effects

Animal and experimental data

Antioxidant effects of sika deer antler velvet protein and its 2 purified protein components (SDAP1 and SDAP2) have been demonstrated in vitro, as well as in a gentamicin-induced nephrotoxicity mouse model(Wang 2020) and with a synthetic velvet antler protein in a cholestatic mouse model.(Li 2020)


Animal data

In a study comparing elk-derived velvet with placebo treatment in dogs with osteoarthritis, improved objective and subjective measures were reported for deer velvet.(Moreau 2004) In a lumbar facet-joint osteoarthritis–like mouse model, 4-week administration of velvet antler polypeptide extracted from red deer antler led to partial improvement in osteophyte formation and significantly increased articular cartilage formation in the facet joint (P<0.05).(Xie 2019)

Clinical data

Two studies (N=208) investigating the efficacy of elk velvet antler supplementation on rheumatoid arthritis showed no effect, while a study evaluating effects on osteoarthritis (N=53) reported symptomatic relief among participants. The trials may have been underpowered to detect effects due to small sample sizes.(Gilbey 2012, Percival 2001, Syrotuik 2005)

Drug-induced nephrotoxicity

Animal and in vitro data

Oral administration of 2 purified protein components (SDAP1 and SDAP2) isolated from sika deer velvet antler significantly reduced gentamicin-induced increases in renal index, serum creatinine, and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) in mice; the higher dose (60 mg/kg) produced a greater effect than the 15 mg/kg dose (P<0.01 for each measure vs control). Pathological changes (ie, tubular focal lesions, tubular swelling, interstitial edema) were also improved with both SDAP1 and SDAP2 at both doses tested. In vitro testing demonstrated significant antioxidant activity and reduced reactive oxygen species by the parent deer velvet antler protein as well as both purified protein components. The mechanism involved significantly increased expression of nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) by all 3 interventions (P<0.01).(Wang 2020)

Endothelial revascularization

Experimental data

Velvet antler protein extracts enhanced proliferation and migration of rat endothelial progenitor cells in vitro without affecting tube formation, resulting in enhanced endothelial wound healing capabilities compared to untreated controls.(Xiao 2017)

Growth-promoting/Wound-healing effects

In vitro laboratory studies have examined mechanisms by which antlers seasonally regenerate both bone and nerve tissues.(Adams 1979, Garcia 1997, Gray 1992) Expression of neurotropin-3 mRNA in the growing process has been studied.(Takikawa 1972) Insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1 and IGF-2) appear to be important mediators for antler growth.(Elliott 1992, Elliott 1993)

Animal data

Limited studies on the growth-promoting effects of deer velvet have been conducted in tadpoles and chicks, with equivocal findings.(Percival 2001) A preparation of deer velvet improved induced whiplash-type injury in rats and rabbits by enhancing glycolysis in nervous tissue.(Sadighi 1994, Takikawa 1972)

Hematopoietic effects

In vitro data

In an in vitro study, fermented deer antler extract did not directly affect hematopoiesis, but contributed to hematopoiesis by stimulating the production of hematopoietic factors.(Park 2015)

Hepatoprotective effects

Animal and in vitro data

A synthetic version of sika deer velvet antler polypeptide was produced and administered orally in a cholestatic liver injury mouse model. After a 5-day prophylactic and 7-day treatment regimen, both the low and high doses (10 and 20 mg/kg/day) of the synthetic velvet antler polypeptide significantly improved serum ALT (P<0.01), total bile acid (P<0.05 to P<0.01), and total bilirubin (P<0.01), which were increased in the cholestatic controls. Survival was also significantly prolonged (P<0.01). Safety was demonstrated by the lack of hepatotoxicity in healthy control mice administered velvet antler polypeptide 20 mg/kg/day for 2 months. Per in vitro experiments, the mechanism involved strong antioxidant activity and marked reduction in reactive oxygen species, as well as stabilization of the blood-bile barrier permeability.(Li 2020)

Performance enhancement

Clinical data

Four clinical trials have published findings of deer velvet supplementation on performance, muscle size, and strength; however, the largest of the trials (N=46) was possibly underpowered and found no effect of supplementation; only 1 small trial (N=32) suggested a positive effect on body composition, strength, and maximal aerobic and anaerobic performance with supplementation.(Gilbey 2012, Percival 2001)

Other uses

A role for deer antler velvet extract in protecting against neurodegeneration in an Alzheimer disease model has been demonstrated experimentally with significant reductions observed in amyloid-beta-induced deposition, aggregation, and toxicity.(Du 2022)


Limited studies are available to provide guidance, and standardization of preparations is lacking.

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. 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 velvet antler may be useful for prevention and treatment of the adverse actions of morphine.(Kim 1999, Zhang 2000)

Adverse Reactions

Data regarding adverse reactions with velvet antler are lacking. Areas of potential concern include drug residues, possible deleterious androgenic effects on fetuses and neonates, and allergic reactions.(Dalefield 1999) A case of liver injury considered probably related to a deer antler extract herbal blend has been reported in 38-year-old male with a history of testosterone drug-induced liver injury.(Yousef 2021)

Humans who consume antler velvet (believed to be the primary location of prion propagation) as a nutritional supplement are at risk for exposure to prions. In one study, the transmission of CWD prions in antler velvet from 2 naturally affected elk to mice in 2 transgenic models demonstrates that this tissue contains low, but detectable, amounts of CWD prions.(Angers 2009, Wiedemer 2021) A case of confirmed Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease that is believed to be related to consumption of deer antler velvet supplements has been documented in a 61-year-old Caucasian male.(Wiedemer 2021)


Toxicity studies of deer antler powder in rats have been conducted. A 2 g/kg dose did not result in mortality or adverse events on a short-term (14 days) basis. In a 90-day study in rats, a 1 g/kg/day regimen also resulted in no observable, important adverse effects with deer velvet versus control, except for a minor, but significant, difference in liver weight.(Zhang 2000)



This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

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Angers RC, Seward TS, Napier D, et al. Chronic Wasting Disease Prions in Elk Antler Velvet. Emerg Infect Dis. 2009;15(5):696-703. doi:10.3201/eid1505.08145819402954
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Du F, Zhao H, Yao M, Yang Y, Jiao J, Li C. Deer antler extracts reduce amyloid-beta toxicity in a Caenorhabditis elegans model of Alzheimer's disease. J Ethnopharmacol. 2022;285:114850. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2021.11485034801608
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