The time I recall first hearing about deer antler velvet was way back in the 1990s. By the middle of that decade, I’d been regrettably pulled into multi-level marketing. In the midst of discussing the numerous dietary supplements being promoted in that industry, a telephone acquaintance I was talking with mentioned ‘Deer Antler Velvet.’ I can still remember his bold claim about what it was purported to do:
Although I was partly intrigued by this claim, the more critical thinking side of my mind was asking “does Deer Antler Velvet work” for this? After all, the idea sounds primitive; like a throwback to the days when humans believed that eating the heart of a lion would build a man’s courage. One has to wonder what could uniquely exist in the tissue of an animal – tissue composed of the same basic building blocks of life with which man’s tissue’s composed – that could possibly stimulate increased hormone production in a specific part of the human body.
Nearly twenty years later, Deer Antler Velvet has suddenly surfaced into some degree of limelight. But rather than being sold as an ingredient in an updated version of Ageless Male, we’re hearing that it’s a booster of IGF-1 instead of a direct stimulator of natural testosterone production.
Regardless, ‘does Deer Antler Velvet work’… for anything? Does it increase IGF-1? Does it raise testosterone? Will it increase muscle mass for the natural bodybuilder?
These are the claims and notions we’ll investigate in this article.
‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work’… and just what is IGF-1?
Anyone asking the question “does Deer Antler Velvet work” can still find online claims that it increases testosterone levels in men. What’s sometimes cited as the reason for the raised T-levels, however, is an increase in blood levels of IGF-1.
But just what is IGF-1?
IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) is an endocrine hormone consisting of 70 single-chained amino acids with three intramolectular disulfide bridges. Most of its endogenous existence is produced and released by the liver after being stimulated from Human Growth Hormone release. IGF-1 is similar in molecular structure to insulin, hence, its name: “Insulin-like”… growth factor. Once released into the blood, IGF-1 goes to and binds with specific receptors within the cell types of numerous bodily tissues, including muscle. Once there, it stimulates cell growth and proliferation.
Obviously, the prospects of such an anabolic hormone are attractive to anyone wanting to increase muscle growth. Significant elevations in IGF-1 will likely result in faster inter-workout recuperation. And quicker recuperation is what leads to faster muscle growth.
The next question becomes obvious: Do Deer Antler Velvet supplements provide a biologically active form of IGF-1 for people who use them?
‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work’… and what started the question?
Now that we know IGF-1 is an anabolic hormone capable of increasing muscle growth, the question “does Deer Antler Velvet work” becomes a matter of answering two precedent questions:
- Does Deer Antler Velvet contain substantial amounts of IGF-1?
- If so, is the IGF-1 from Deer Antler Velvet biologically active in humans when orally administered?
The assumption that both these questions can be answered in the positive is intertwined within Deer Antler Velvet marketing and press release hype. It all started when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was mentioned in a Sports Illustrated article to have solicited a Deer Antler Velvet marketer about substances that could possibly speed Lewis’ recovery from a torn right triceps. Ray Lewis denies ever using products being hawked by the marketer’s company, a firm out of Alabama called SWATS (Sports With Alternatives To Steroids).
But this denial by Mr. Lewis appears to fuel speculation and subsequent marketing leverage for Deer Antler Velvet. If he denies using the products, they probably work, right? After all, athletes often deny using drugs right before getting popped by testing positive for using them.
In addition, some articles about Ray Lewis’ association with ‘SWATS’ will follow claims by Mr. Lewis that he never used Deer Antler Velvet with the point that IGF-1 is an illegal substance for which blood presence is tested by the NFL. In other words, some press coverage has little intervening analysis of the far-fetched likelihood of the IGF-1 contained in these products even being effective in humans. That spurs assumptions in many a person’s mind that Deer Antler Velvet is probably as effective as a drug. And if this isn’t marketer-driven press material made to order for coaxing athletes and fitness enthusiasts to try this stuff, then it must be one of the most serendipitous stumbles upon cleverness that I’ve seen in the sport’s supplements industry.
Bottom line: You’re smart to ask “does Deer Antler Velvet work” before betting your money on it.
‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work’; can it come close to the hype?
I began this article by mentioning that I first heard about Deer Antler Velvet back in the mid-1990s. Based on that, let me pose a good question:
‘If Deer Antler Velvet could live up to half the hype that’s being generated about it, wouldn’t almost 20 years be enough time for word-of-mouth to have spread about it already?’
Instead, the stuff’s been wallowing in obscurity for a long time. Then suddenly, a world-class pro athlete is merely quoted as inquiring about it. Subsequently – and probably much to its marketer’s delight – he denied making such an inquiry, or of ever using the product.
“Ah-Ha! He must have used it”… right?
Even if he did, so what… aren’t professional athletes as susceptible to gullibility as the rest of us? Aren’t they as likely to deny using a product out of desire to mask their gullibility as to hide any guilt borne of benefiting from performance enhancing substances? Besides, there’s word that Lewis denied using the product because he wasn’t certain it didn’t contained NFL-banned substances of which he was unaware.
Okay, am I implying that I know without a doubt that Deer Antler Velvet doesn’t work?
Not by a long shot. I’ve personally never tried Deer Antler Velvet and cannot vouch for its effectiveness or lack thereof. But I’m not inclined to try it simply because a top athlete is said to have used it, and then claimed he didn’t.
And there’s good reason to doubt this extract does anything. Dr. Roberto Salvatori was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying that there is no medically valid way of delivering IGF-1 either orally or via spray. Dr. Salvatori is an endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, so he has credibility on the topic. The following is what he had to say:
"If there were, a lot of people would be happy that they don't need to get shots anymore. It's just simply not possible for it to come from a spray."
Think about that. There are lots of people who need IGF-1 to be medically administered. If there were suddenly a viable way of doing it without needles, we’d likely hear about it as an incredible scientific and medical breakthrough. No such news is forthcoming; just a lot of unscientific claims by supplement marketers.
In fairness, it’s worth mentioning that Deer Antler Velvet has a long history as a folk medicine. Evidence uncovered by way of a 2,000 year old Chinese tomb-encased scroll shows writing that says Deer Antler Velvet was used back then as a health aid. It is said in Traditional Chinese Medicine that tonic made from the antlers instills in the user everything from enhanced energy levels to improved health and vitality.
There could be some truth to those claims. Dean Nieves of Florida-based ‘Bio Labs Naturals’ contends that Antler Velvet is simply a nutritional super-food. He’s one of the few marketers of Deer Antler Velvet who doesn’t buy into or sell anyone on the notion that the extract contains bioavailable IGF-1. Nieves told the Baltimore Sun:
“IGF-1 is very unstable. It could not exist outside of a very controlled environment. And when you order bottles of deer antler extract, it's not coming in a freeze-dried case.”
And the Bio Labs Naturals website reflects this. Rather than making claims of hormonal enhancement from using the extract, the company claims the product contains an array of amino acids along with phospholipids, glycosaminoglycans, and saturated fatty acid molecules. The only two ingredients it lists that I find questionably ambiguous are “extracellular matrix components” (don’t ask me what those are) and “beneficial growth factors” (if those are non-hormonal, then what are they?).
So, does Deer Antler Velvet work?
Well, I guess if the only thing standing between your current muscle building potential and something better is another substance in the long list of “super foods”, then “yes”, it might do something.
But I wouldn’t expect it to do anything beyond what could be expected from any other nutritious food.
‘Does Deer Antler Velvet Work to Build Muscle?’ Your Feedback
I’ll confess to having a bias against products like Deer Antler Velvet. That’s because, as I said at the start of this article, they remind me of that primitive mindset whereby mankind believed ingesting organs of certain animals would provide him with desirable characteristics of those animals (i.e. eating the heart of a lion for courage).
Granted, in the case of Deer Antler Velvet, we’re probably a step up from that lion example – maybe more in alignment with the impulse of buying liver tablets that were so popular with bodybuilders in the 1970s. But marketers are still tapping into that primitive instinct: If deer antlers are the fastest growing mammalian organs on earth, then consuming them will bestow us with those same qualities of regenerative growth… right?
If you’ve bought into this notion and tried Deer Antler Velvet, readers would love to get your feedback. Please give us your thoughts on the product in the comment section below.
And keep making ‘smart training’ your number one ingredient for success.