Deer Anter Velvet in China
Deer antler velvet is regarded in China as preventive medicine. It is yang in property, and an androgenic agent. In order to understand the Chinese concept of yang and how it relates to health, it is important to note that so far Chinese medicine has differed from western medicine in that its emphasis is in prevention or restoration as opposed to the western emphasis on eliminating the offending agent. Because the Russian literature on deer antler velvet, as well as Japan’s and Korea’s, is based on Chinese concepts of health and medicine, a brief review is necessary.
Chinese medicine restores harmony between conflicting forces, in order to secure health. The practice is that of an intricate system based on complex philosophies that are thousands of years old. It utilizes herbs, physical therapies and exercises to promote health. Its primary focus is on the concept of qi, the life force, and the continual balance of the opposing natures of yin and yang within the unified system of nature.
In order to determine what is causing illness, a traditional Chinese practitioner looks for imbalances in heat/cold, moisture/dryness, and excess/deficiency of these three life forces. The causes of these imbalances are determined by five organ networks: the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. In TCM, when the organ networks are out of balance or are functioning in the absence of sufficient qi, illness ensues. Treatment aims to correct imbalance by providing complimentary balance in an approach similar to that of Hippocrates’, who taught that balancing the classical humors brought health. For example, if the disease is a cold condition, then the treatment uses substances such as herbs or physical therapies, to create warmth.
Chinese treatments are often used in complex and very specific formulas, taking into account the “flavors” of the ingredients and their corresponding properties and actions. The formulas are derived from plant, mineral, and animal extracts even though they are all called “herbs” and are used to treat every possible kind of ailment. In compounding them, herbal pharmacists take into account not only what disorder the medicines are to alleviate, but also how each ingredient affects others in the formula, and how the addition of certain substances can reduce or cause side effects.
The most respected medical text that contains these principles and philosophies, Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu, was written in the 16th century and discusses the use of elk and moose antler in the form of powders, pills, extracts, tinctures, and ointments. In many instances, the products were mixed with other herbs. Antler was considered a universal tonic, but also held an important place in the list of medicaments meant to produce sexual virility.
The Chinese and Korean peoples have for centuries regarded the antlers of both the spotted and maral deer as being one of the most important medicinal substances available. In Korea, it is still considered valuable in the treatment of anemia, to stimulate the immune system, to treat infertility and impotence, to improve circulation in patients with heart disease, to improve muscular tone, glandular function, lung efficiency, and nerve function (Kamen, 1998).
In the early 1980’s, an estimated 200,000-300,000 spotted and red deer were farmed to make medicinal products in China, with a yield of approximately 100 tons of dried deer velvet annually. Half of this was exported, and the remainder was prepared at pharmaceutical companies into products that were dispensed throughout rural and urban hospitals. In the 1980s, deer antler velvet was considered the second most important ingredient in TCM (the first is ginseng).