Generally researchers agree that velvet antler restores, strengthens and protects normal bodily functions but is not in itself curative. Preliminary results of modern research suggest that deer velvet may have beneficial effects related to:
- Stimulation of the body’s immune system to assist protection against infection and disease
- The anti-inflammatory agents it contains that may assist in reducing the pain and inflammation of a variety of degenerative diseases
- The anabolic or growth stimulating properties it provides
- The prevention or repair of muscle damage following exercise
- Its ability to increase muscular strength and endurance
- Its ability to significantly reduce the damaging side effects of chemotherapy drugs, while at the same time increasing their effectiveness
Specific deer antler velvet benefits shown by western research include:
New Zealand research has shown clear evidence that velvet antler can alleviate experimentally induced anemia.
Research on mice suggests that velvet antler supplements inhibited the activity of some enzymes associated with aging while increasing the synthesis of liver and kidney protein by promoting activity of other specific enzymes.
Reviews report that this research is strong evidence of the anti-aging influence of deer velvet.
Although there does not appear to be any evidence that velvet antler can cure cancers, research has demonstrated that velvet may extracts have some anti-tumor (cytotoxic) effects against some forms of cancer cells.
New Zealand research  reports that although the mechanism is unknown velvet antler shows strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Blood Pressure Control
Research has shown that extracts of deer velvet have a strong ability to lower blood pressure in people with normal blood pressure and to stabilise abnormal blood pressure. However Suttie et al advises extreme caution of use of velvet by those with extremely high or low blood pressure.
Bone and Joint Health
It is proposed by researchers that therapies used for the treatment of human bone and joint problems should include the use of glycosaminoglycan-peptides, particularly chondroitin sulphate. Several studies have shown the glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content of velvet antler and in particular the relatively high level of chondroitin sulphate.
Most research suggests that as velvet antler contains significant quantities of chondroitin sulphate, it is worthy of consideration as a treatment for joint and bone inflammation conditions.
Research has identified various natural hormones (growth factors) in velvet antler including IGF-1 (insulin –like Growth Factor-1) and EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor).
Velvet antler may be a natural source of natural hormones for athletes and others who seek a natural aid to muscle growth and development.
Although the mechanisms are yet to be clearly identified, research and anecdotal evidence suggests that velvet antler has a positive effect on athletic performance. Although not all reports are positive, most indicate that the effect is likely to be either prevention or rapid repair (or both) of muscle damage associated with exercise.
Stimulation of the Immune System
Research in Korea, New Zealand and China has shown that velvet antler can stimulate the immune system. Extracts of velvet antler were variously shown to increase macrophage activity, stimulate the production of lymphocytes and increase the number of red and white blood cells.
Each of these effects may directly complement the body’s ability to resist or fight disease and so promote and maintain health and an associated feeling of well being.
The immune stimulation effects shown by research gives support to claims of TCM that velvet antler can have a revitalising effect, especially for people who are immuno-compromised people (those weakened by illness or other stress).
Deer antler velvet is used to treat many conditions.
An estimated 50 million North Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, a progressive disease of cartilaginous tissue. It involves the loss of proteoglycans and deterioration of cartilage. Both the collagenous matrix and bone degrade. Taking oral glycosaminoglycan-peptides (GAG-p), a therapy termed chondroprotection, may help to prevent both cartilage and bone loss by supplementing the body with proteoglycans.
It has been proposed by researchers that therapies for OA, which include anodynes and antiinflammatory agents, should include glucosamine sulfate (GS), or other GAGs – particularly chondroitin sulfate (CS). In humans, GS is a glucosamine prodrug. Following intravenous, intramuscular and oral administration, GS is distributed into bone and articular cartilage. When ingested orally, up to 90% of GS is absorbed. (Setnikar et al., 1993.)
Chondroitin sulfate has demonstrated slow but gradually increasing reduction in clinical symptoms, lasting up to three months past the end of a controlled study which followed the progress of 146 patients with knee osteoarthritis. Patients were given either diclofenac sodium, an NSAID, or CS. Clinical symptom scores were based on the assessment of the Lesqesne Index, Huskissson visual analog scale of spontaneous pain 4-point ordinal scale for pain on load, and paracetamol consumption. (Morreal et al., 1996.)
The absolute bioavailability of chondroitin sulfate after oral administration is 13.2%. This level of bioavailability in both man and laboratory animals is consistent with other glycosaminoglycans with low sulfation. After intravenous administration of 0.5g CS to healthy volunteers, plasma level of CS decreased, according to a two-compartmental open model. Studies indicate that the metabolic fate of exogenous CS is the same for humans as is the fate of tritiated CS used in experimental animals. Intestinal absorption of both CS and high and low molecular weight polysaccharides derived from its partial depolymerization and/or desulfation has been confirmed in man.Absorption reaches its peak between the 3rd and 4th hour. (Conte et al., 1991.)
Placebo-controlled, double blind studies that demonstrate GS and CS induced benefits to OA, however, have not determined mechanisms of action. Nevertheless, as a source of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate, deer antler velvet is worthy of consideration in OA therapy (Sim and Sunwoo, 1999).A glycosaminoglycan-rich antler product, GAGRA, is available for commercial use relative to the treatment of OA and arthritis (Sim and Sunwoo, 1999).
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
In RA, the synovial membrane of multiple joints are inflamed; fibroblasts in the synovium invade and damage both cartilage and bone. In addition to these synovial fibroblasts, T-helper cells may also add to a rheumatoid inflammatory response. T-helper cells are inhibited by interleukin (IL)-4, IL-b, and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta), but require the administration of antigens in order to enhance the secretion of these T-helper inhibiting factors while simultaneously causing oral tolerance (Kalden and Sieper, 1998).
As an antigen, collagen type II was used with success in both experimental animal trials and an open study against collagen type II RA (Trentham et al., 1994). Use was based on the fact that orally-administered collagen type II stimulates T-cell production of IL-4, IL-10, and TGF-beta and precipitates oral tolerance (Kalden and Sieper, I 998). One trial involved 60 RA patients in a double-blind setting; those given chicken type II collagen for 3 months enjoyed significant reductions in joint swelling and pain, and 4 patients claimed complete remission. The patients receiving placebo reported neither symptom reductions nor remission (Trentham et al., 1993). Collagen type II was also of significant note in the treatment of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JVA): after 3 months of therapy, 8 of 10 patients given oral chicken type II collagen had less pain, swelling and morning stiffness, and increased grip strength and ambulatory endurance (Barnett et al., 1996).
Oral tolerance models have been used as a method of creating antigenspecific tolerance in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and uveitis (Trentham et al., 1993). The theory and application of oral tolerance parallels those of allergic desensitization: the allergic patient little by little, through carefully controlled exposure, becomes desensitized to the allergen until the allergy finally abates. As an autoantigen in the etiology of the autoimmune aspect of RA and the primary protein in articular cartilage, type II collagen activates T-cells and also the chronic degeneration of joint cartilage of bones. In reaction to its oral administration, T-cells generated by the immune response contain cytokines that can suppress part of the degenerative response that occurs in RA (Kalden and Sieper, I 998).
Deer antler velvet is a significant source of type II collagen and worthy of serious consideration in the treatment of RA. Future clinical trials conducted to determine the effects of deer antler velvet on T-cell production and the autoimmune factors of RA will likely support the use of deer antler velvet in RA.
Immune Stimulant and Antitumor Effects
Monocytes in rats given deer antler velvet extracts reportedly increase (Church, 1999). Monocytes represent 3-7% of leukocytes Iin blood and are necessary to the immune function of lymph, spleen, bone marrow, and loose connective tissue.
Their increase may serve to enhance immune function. In subsequent studies, immune stimulant activity was ascertained. Intraperitoneal injection of pantocrin (0.5-2 mg/kg) enhanced phagocytosis and immunoglobulin levels in mice (Wang, 1996). After analysis of 8 New Zealand red deer extracts, it was determined that extracts prepared from freeze dried antlers that were harvested from the deer at days 60 or 85 had significant immune stimulant activity (Suttie and Haines, 1996). The studies of the 8 extracts used two dosage ranges, the first entailing extracts that were diluted from 500mg/ml to 62mg/ml; the second, extracts ranging from 62mg/ml to 15mg/ml. The investigators found that all extracts in the first set of dilutions carried some immune stimulant capacity, as did those in the second set, even in dilutions as low as 15mg/ml. The extracts used, however, underwent various types of processing and were obtained from various regions of the antler, so their effects were different. The extract designated as Extract E was freeze-dried and from the antler base, and was both immune stimulant and antiinflamatory, for example. The study had numerous parameters and statistical factors and investigators were unable to say which extract was the most active, nor were they able to conclude the specific mechanism underlying deer antler velvet’s immune effects. However, it is postulated that due to cytokines in the antlers, the response is humoral, involving antibody stimulation, as opposed to being a cell-mediated response. And because of the potential for side effects pursuant to the use of any drug or supplement, it was significant to determine that even at the lowest dilution, immune enhancement was still observed. (Suttie and Haines, 1996).
Myotropic and Neurotropic Effects
Pantocrin was observed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to have a positive effect on the endurance of laboratory animals. Pantocrin extracts increased the working capacity of mice (Brekhman et al., 1969), and these early findings led to experiments designed to study the effects of pantocrin on athletes.
In Russia, tests included one study in which subjects were given either pantocrin or rantarin (reindeer antler); results were compared to the physical exertions of a control groups of athletes. Athletes given pantocrin exhibited 74kg/m dynamic work potential on an exercise bicycle; those given rantocrine, 103kg/m. The control group performed at 15kg/m. (Yudin and Dubryakov, 1974.)
Spurred on by studies like this, Dr. Arkady Koltun, MD, chair of the Medical Committee for the Russian Bodybuilding Federation, included deer antler velvet in his studies of anabolic agents and their effects on muscle composition, endurance and strength. Early theorists suggested that the elevated performance levels arose from deer antler velvet increases in muscle restoration following exertion, and from adaptogenic properties of the deer antler velvet preparations, which help the body to recoup following physical, external, or biochemical challenge (Fulder, 1980). DrArkady’s research demonstrated that deer antler velvet was both myotropic and neurotropic in effect.
Because these effects serve to increase muscle and nerve strength, they do tend to support early theories. Also, pantocrin enables rats and rabbits to recover quickly from whiplash-like injuries. The effect is thought to be due to increases in glycolosis, which is a necessary process in the maintenance of healthy nerve tissue. Humans with cervical injuries reportedly heal faster when administered pantocrin, as well (Church, 1999).
Despite these indications that deer antler velvet is myotropic and neurotropic, a 1998 study in which the strength training of the Edmonton (Canada) police recruits was supplemented with elk velvet antler (EVA) demonstrated significant increases in neither endurance nor performance. The study did show, however, that the EVA supplement significantly increased testosterone levels in blood plasma.
The nine week study intended to provide support for the hypothesis that EVA increases muscle mass and strength through anabolic effects. The rigorous training program involved both strength and endurance exercises, and recruits received either placebo or EVA. Venous blood samples were analyzed for cortisol, testosterone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-l), and various approved physical markers were recorded before and after the 9 week period.
EVA was chosen as a trial substance in strength and endurance training because of its protein content, as athletes have increased protein needs. The proteins in EVA stay in their original form and are not degraded by heat and acids during processing. It is also a rich source of undenatured, intact branched chain amino acids, which may stimulate the increased testosterone levels noted in the results of this study. It is postulated that these amino acids, some of which are branched chain amino acids, stimulate testosterone release from Leydig cells in the testes, due to EVA-prodded signals from luteinizing hormone. Other theories suggest that EVA may block the release of testosterone from the kidneys while raising testosterone half-life, or it may bind with sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). (Fisher, et al. 1998.)
Antler extract preparations rantarin and pantocrin both exert androgenic effects, which means that they increase the production of testosterone and its metabolites. In this capacity, deer antler velvet may function in a way that is similar to the supplement androstenedione, which was made famous at the end of the 1998 baseball season by record-holding batter Mark McGwire. Androstenedione is a steroid precursor produced normally by the adrenal glands and gonads, and is converted to testosterone in the liver. While no long term studies on the performance-enhancement use of androstenedione exist, manufacturers and users say that the steroid precursor helps to build muscle mass and reduce recovery time following injury (‘osephson, 1998).
Furthermore, a discussion included in a report of similar study, in which deer antler velvet was given to male university athletes, postulates that the dosages used in tests so far may be too low (Gerrard et al.).The male university athletes received 70mg daily for 10 weeks; the dose of the EVA supplements given to the Edmonton police recruits were not included in the report of the study.
In the university athlete trial, researchers report that while results were not statistically significant in this study, there was a positive trend toward increasing athletic strength. While the study did not firmly demonstrate strength and endurance enhancement, the investigators involved note that deer antler velvet-induced erythropoiesis should stimulate increases in muscle mass. Further, they suggested that this effect, combined with antunflammatory effects of deer antler velvet and reported lactic acid removal efficiency, should enhance muscle composition, and exertional stamina and recovery time. (Gerrard et al.)
A Japanese study in which 8 out of 10 patients received pantocrin resulted in significant and transient reductions in arterial blood pressure. The systolic reading was lowered by 20 to 70 points, and the diastolic by as much as 10 to 20mmHg.Taking into account all the objective and subjective indices, pantocrin was 80% effective. Another study showed that that intravenous administration of alcohol extract from Siberian deer antler at 0.85m1/kg lowers arterial blood pressure by and average of 20-23mmHg, for 126 seconds in cats and 123 seconds in rabbits. (Fisher et al., I 998).
Used intravenously at doses of 0.5-Smg/kg in cats anesthetized with 25mg Na-pentabarbital/kg, pantocrin caused an immediate drop in blood pressure, which returned to normal after two minutes. Given intravenously to rabbits that had been previously treated with atropine and physostigmine, pantocrin’s effects were found to be blocked by atropine and enhanced by physostigmine. Further, cervical vagus nerve amputation did not change the effects of pantocrin on blood pressure, neither did electrical stimulation of the right peripheral vagus nerve. (Fisher et al., I 998).
In anaesthetized dogs, 1mg/kg pantocrin injection to the left femoral artery lowered blood pressure comparably to that caused by 0.2mg/kg acetylcholine. Effects were only in the left femoral artery; at 3mg/kg blood pressure lowering effects extended to the right femoral artery. Pantocrin also stimulated an increase in blood flow. Intravenous administration lowered blood pressure in both arteries, and was somewhat blocked by atropine, but did not stimulate an increase in blood flow. The researchers concluded that pantocrin acted directly on blood vessels and on the parasympathetic nervous system due to cholinergic effects. (Fisher et al., 1998.)
The extent of hypotensive effects exerted by pantocrin on humans has been reported by some investigators to be negligible if pantocrin is given in doses prescribed in Chinese medicine (0.5-1mg/kg body weight), and that at high doses (0.15g/kg) precipitate only a mild reduction in blood pressure. Discrepancies in the hypotensive response in humans to pantocrin led to an analysis of the influence of temperature in the production of the deer antler velvet extract. The product that had the most influential effect on blood pressure was reported to have undergone a 50% ethanol extraction at 121C for 16 hours, and the entire process included centrifuging and vacuum drying the extract. The residue was then dissolved in an NaCI solution .85m1/kg caused a 20mgHg fall in blood pressure in anaesthetized rats. (Church, 1999.)
Because freeze dried rump steak had similar effects on blood pressure, it was theorized that hypotensive effects of protein extracts are not caused by cholinergic receptor activity. Instead, it was theorized that hypotensive results obtained from intravenous administration stems from an pantocrin-induced weakening of the cells in vascular walls, due to hyperpolarization. Most researchers agree that hypotensive effects are due to choline compounds (Church, 1999).
Deer antler velvet also demonstrates an ability to prevent or reduce both shock and stress responses. Rats given deer antler velvet prior to exposure to extreme temperatures and to electric shock demonstrated quicker recovery times than those that did not receive antler treatment (Kang, 1970). Tests also show that in laboratory animals, deer antler velvet may prevent stress-stimulated hypertrophy of the adrenal glands and involution of the thymus (Yudin and Dubryakov, 1974).
Many other effects exerted by deer antler velvet on physiological processes have been described and require further, follow-up research. The polysaccharides in deer antler velvet may play a role in observed antiulcer effects (Wang et al., 1985). Rantarin administered before gastrointestinal surgery aided recovery (Kim and Lim, 1977). Deer antler velvet extracts protected the liver from carbon tetrachloride toxicity in rats (Church, 1999). Cholesterol levels were reduced in rats given deer antler velvet in their diets (Church, 1999).
Deer antler velvet may also help to treat inflammatory liver and kidney diseases in a manner similar to steroid-based pharmaceuticals. Due to its androgenic activity, deer antler velvet was used to determine its effects on the liver and kidney. Liver tissue already damaged with chloroform was able to recover following deer antler velvet treatment. It was observed in follow-up studies that protein formation in both the liver and kidney was enhanced, due to effects of deer antler velvet on RNS polymerase activity. (Wang et al., 1990.)
In chickens, deer antler velvet increased growth rate slightly, enhanced food conversion, increased weight of testes and reduced the weight of the thyroid (Church, 1999). Tip section preparations have also been observed to stimulate wound healing (Church, 1999). Erythrpoiesis, increased red blood cell production, has been observed in anemic rats and rabbits given deer antler velvet products (Church, 1999); this finding supports the empirical use of deer antler velvet for anemia in humans.
Velvet extracts also slow tumor growth and demonstrate antitumor activity against Bacillus P-92, a tumor cell line, in mice (Suttie et al., 1994). Fermented deer antler velvet increases the survival rate of mice that have tumors, from 25-40% (Church, 1999). Polysaccharides in deer antler velvet may be responsible for the antiinflammatory actions of a fraction isolated from antler in the treatment of mammary hyperplasia (Suttie and Haines, 1996).
Deer antler velvet may also benefit the elderly through protective effects against senility. In mice, senescence-accelerated mice (SAM) given a hot water extract of deer antler velvet for 8 days demonstrated improvements in parameters that convey the progression of senility, compared to control mice in whom parameters remained unchanged (Wang et al., 1988).