Deer Antler Velvet Overview
Deer antler velvet is a food, dietary supplement, and medicinal herb made from growing deer antler.
Deer Antler Velvet Sourcing
A few members of the Cervus species of deer are farmed for their deer antler velvet. North American elk (wapiti), Sika deer, and European red deer are the main sources of deer antler velvet found in commercially available products. These deer and elk are selected, bred, and raised specifically for their antler velvet, which forms during the early stages of antler development.
Once harvested, the deer antler velvet is used in teas, extracts, capsules, sprays, and tablets in a variety of health-related products. Note that deer are not killed for their antlers. The antler velvet is removed from healthy, live deer so that they may continue to product the valuable raw material year after year.
Deer Antler Velvet Worldwide Production
New Zealand is the largest producer of deer antler velvet with 450–500 tons of red deer antler velvet generated every year. China produces 400 tons of deer antler velvet yearly, which is made predominantly from Sika deer. Russia produces 80 tons annually, and the United States and Canada each produce about 20 tons each year. Korea is the largest exporter of deer antler velvet and grosses approximately $1.6 billion (U.S.) in sales.
In Russia, maral (Caspian Red deer) breeding and the deer antler velvet industry are vital for certain regions to improve economic development and enhance financial recovery. A priority area of research in the nutraceutical industry is to find sources of biologically active substances in nature and to produce specialized products that target specific conditions. The sustainable development of reindeer farming and production of deer antler velvet is currently being studied to determine how to improve and expand the range of products that can be marketed.
Uses in Chinese Traditional Medicine
Deer antler velvet has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2000 years. It was recorded in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica), the earliest text in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), which is a compilation of 365 Chinese Medicinals.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) focuses on balancing the opposing forces, Yin (negative, dark, feminine) and Yang (positive, bright, masculine). Treating an imbalance between Yin and Yang involves providing a complimentary Chinese medicinal that corrects and restores balance. For example, if the individual has a cold disease, then the practitioner uses substances, such as herbal therapies, to create warmth. Deer antler velvet is used in TCM to prevent disease and is considered to have the properties of Yang that “tonify the kidney, invigorate the spleen, strengthen bones and muscles, and promote blood flow.”
The antlers of the spotted and maral deer have been valued by Chinese and Korean ancestors for many centuries and are regarded as one of the most important medicinal substances used in TCM. It is believed to have anti-infertility, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antibacterial, and antiviral properties that prevent and treat a wide range of diseases. Deer antler velvet is used in both adults and children, and approximately 10% is used for preventive and restorative purposes in children in Korea.
Red deer antler velvet has been used to treat male impotence and female infertility. The focus on sexual and reproductive function has categorized deer antler velvet as an aphrodisiac. However, in TCM, an aphrodisiac is an agent that enhances the ability of men and women to reproduce and not something that increases their libido or sex drive.
Uses of Different Segments of the Antlers
Deer antler velvet contains numerous biologically active components.
TCM uses different segments of the antler for different conditions based on the concentration of nutrients in specific parts. The tip and the middle regions are used to make pediatric tonics, and the upper and middle regions are used in products for degenerative inflammatory conditions, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The base is more calcified than other regions and is used to increase calcium intake among the elderly to prevent osteoporosis and the risk of fractures.
Since the 1930s, researchers, scientists, and pharmacists have attempted to demonstrate key findings and sound critical reasoning from studies that support the therapeutic effects of deer antler velvet.
More than 250 articles have been published concerning the manufacture, composition, biochemical, and physiological effects of deer antler velvet. Research studies are still being published as scientists evaluate novel uses for deer antler velvet in human and veterinary medicine. T
he processing and manufacturing of deer antler velvet have also been scrutinized and refined to prevent the breakdown and loss of vital biochemicals and nutrients. Areas of current research include acute liver injury, intervertebral disc degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, muscle strength and stamina, and numerous others.
Most of the research studies are currently being conducted by Chinese and Korean researchers and may be because of the cultural beliefs that they have regarding the effectiveness of TCM.
Western countries including the U.S. and Canada and some European countries have not accepted the use of TCM and complimentary medicine because of the lack of clinical trials. This may be in part because Western medicine seeks to eliminate the causative agent of disease whereas TCM emphasizes prevention and restoration of the Yin Yang balance.