Velvet Antler (usually from deer) is crushed antler that is orally consumed for preventative health purposes. Hailing from Traditional Chinese Medicine, velvet antler does not appear to influence hormones and is currently unsupported for muscle repair (although it may aid skin regeneration rates).
Sources and Composition
Velvet Antler is a supplement derived from powdered or crushed antlers, most commonly from deer (and thus referred to as Deer Velvet Antler) although Elk have also been used. They have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The base of the antler is referred to as Cervus (in reference to deers), Lu Jiao Pan, Zhen Zhu Pan, as well as Lu Hua Pan and appears to have been traditionally used for cardiovascular disease, gynecological problems, immunological deficiencies, blood cancers, tissue repair and health promotion. The specific part used is the antler base; when the antler is sawed off the base temporarily remains until the regeneration of the new antler pushes it off which occurrs occasionally in the wild. Traditional usage involves using the base and macerating it in wine or decocting it with water for oral consumption.
As this supplement is derived from 'deer', the two most commonly used species of deer in mainland China include the Sika deer Cervus nippon Temminck and Red Deer Cervus elaphus Linnaeus; these species may be relevant. 'Farming' of deers for antlers includes raising deer and sawing off the antlers under analgesia, the annual yeild appears to be 120-150 tonnes and deer are not usually killed as antlers are capable of full regeneration.
Traditional usage of Velvet Antler (literally the antler from deer, which is harvested and regenerates yearly) appears to be in line with pro-vitality and cardiovascular health properties as well as tissue repair and immune boosting
The active components of Deer Velvet Antler base include:
- Various bioactive peptides in the protein fragment. The crude protein fragment appears to be around 32.8% of the weight, with water soluble proteins consisting of 8.29%
- Polysaccharides (carbohydrates) consist of 1.682%, mostly soluble sugar (1.143%) and reducing sugars (0.575%)
- Fatty acids at 1.91%, with a low content of phospholipids (0.3%) and free fatty acids (0.067%) mostly oleic and vaccenic acid as well as palmitic acid
- Glycosaminoglycans, of which the major one appears to be Chondroitin Sulfate
- Collagen and Hyaluronic Acid
- Dietary cholesterol at 0.224mcg/g
- (Secondhand report) Androstenedione (0.6ng/g), Testosterone (2.44ng/g), Dehydroepiandrosterone (0.64ng/g), Progesterone (2.28ng/g) and Estradiol (14pg/g); most likely residual as hormones tend to circulate in the antler when it is still connected or freshly removed from the Deer, and at higher concentrations
- Dietary minerals including Calcium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Manganese, and Copper; with fairly high calcium (7.06-7.71%) and phosphorus (5.76-7.47%) concentrations as Deer Antler is bone tissue
Intersestingly, the analgesics administered to deer prior to antler sawing to reduce or abolish the pain they may feel may appear in Velvet Antler (although in quantities that suggest they are not bioactive); Lidocaine, sometimes used as analgesic for deer has been detected in Velvet Antler.
Nutritionally, Velvet Antler has a similar mineral and macronutrient profile to bone tissue. The bioactives appear to either be the minerals (which are in very high quantities relative to other food products) or some of the proteins, which may form bioactive peptides
Deer Antler may contain growth factors including testosterone, but similar to Royal Jelly it and other hormones appear to be in too small quantitites to have any bioactivity
One blinded study in 34 otherwise healthy men given 1g powdered Velvet Antler daily for 12 weeks failed to exert any erectile benefit (measured by IIEF) and did not alter self reported orgasm or sexual satisfaction. This study also failed to find any significant difference in aphrodisia as assessed by the BISF-W rating scale.
Currently no evidence to support an increase in aphrodisia, although only one trial has been conducted
One study (duplicated in Medline) that used a water extract of Velvet Antler at 50-200mg/kg failed to inhibit the pain killing effect of Morphine yet reduced the rate at which rats became tolerant to Morphine over the course of 6 days when taken an hour prior to Morphine each day. Rats who were given Velvet Antler prior to Morphine also experienced 26.6-36.6% less withdrawal (dose-dependent) and reduced reverse tolerance and dopamine receptor supersensitivity relative to morphine control.
Only one study currently, but Velvet Antler may have anti-addictive properties on opioid compounds.
One in vitro study using Velvet Antler polypeptides noted that incubation of the polypeptides with neuronal stem cells was able to dose-dependently induce differnetiation between 10-50mcg/mL, with 5mcg/mL too low a concentration to induce differentiation and concentrations above 50mcg/mL being less effective than 50mcg/mL.
Preliminary in vitro study suggesting neuronal differentiation of stem cells; implications of this study currently not known
In rats undergoing left coronary artery ligation, those with heart failure were given either Velvet Antler (Deer) or Captopril as active control for 4 weeks with a third group given water. No significant changes in cardiac structure was noted with either Velvet Antlers or Captopril (with the heart tissue being enlarged after heart failure) although left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) and fractional shortening (LVFS) appeared to be improved in both treatment groups to approximately the same degree and the increase in serum Brain Natiuretic Peptide (BNP) that occurred with heart failure was attenuated the same degree in both interventions.
At least one study has suggested cardiac rehabilitative effects in rodents
Inflammation and Immunology
In regards to cytokine release, macrophages cultered with the water extract of Velvet Antler appear to secrete less TNF-a, IL-6, and IL-12p40 at 100-150ug/mL concentration.
An ethanolic extract has been noted to, following oral ingestion of 100mg/kg, suppress nitric oxide secretion from peritoneal macrophages while stimulating phagocytic activity secondary to calcium mobilization, and has been noted to increase macrophage cell count in a concentration dependent manner up to 171.5% at 150mcg/mL with a water extract (and 132.4% for splenocytes). This immunostimulation appears to be related to phosphatidylcholine molecules with saturated fatty acid acyl chains and is thought to underlie an anti-infective effect in mice infected with Staphylococcus aureus when Velvet Antler is ingested at 500mg/kg.
The mechanisms appear to be anti-inflammatory on the level of an individual cell, but possibly immunostimulatory. More studies are needed to investigated mechanisms, but Velvet Antler may be a possible immunomodulatory agent
In an ovalbumin sensitized mouse model, 4 weeks of Velvet Antler at 2.5-10mg total (weight of mice not given, assuming 20g this equals 125-500mg/kg or 10-40mg/kg for humans) was able to reduce total Immunoglobulin E (IgE) and Ovalbumin-specific IgE at 14, 21, and 28 days. When challenged with methacholine and subsequently having their airway power measured, it appeared that Velvet Antler exert anti-asthmatic effects in regards to allergies.
One study suggesting anti-allergic effects in an animal model of allergic asthma
In dogs with radiographic evidence of osteroarthrosis given 560-1120mg of Velvet Antler for 30 days (based on do weight; 560mg for those under 40kg, 40-59.9kg given 840mg, and 60-79.9kg given 1120mg) was able to improve gait as assessed by forceplates and improved daily life activities (assessed by owner).
In 168 persons with stable Rheumatoid Arthritis but present pain (25-100mm on the VAS rating scale) given either 1g of Velvet Antler from Elk or placebo for 6 months noted that there were no significant differences between placebo and Velvet Antler in regards to pain. Another study by the same research group using a smaller sample (n=40) and graded doses of 430mg, 860mg, and 1290mg daily noted that there was a dose-dependent trend towards reduced pain symptoms but this was not statistically significant.
A systemic review on human interventions makes note of a study conducted on patients of osteoarthritis (Edelman et al. 2000; cannot be located online) which found improvements in joint pain symptoms relative to baseline in the Velvet Antler group and not placebo, although a lack of information on blinding and randomization precludes results that can be drawn from this study.
Both human studies on Rheumatoid arthritis have currently come back negative, suggesting no significant benefit of 403-1290mg of Velvet Antler taken daily for pain reduction in Rheumatoid Arthritis
Interactions with Physical Performance
One study in men given 1.5g Velvet Antler for 11 weeks noted that intake of Velvet Antler was associated with a greater improvement in peak torque (30+/-21% more than baseline vs. placebo increasing 13+/-15%) and average power (21+/-19% vs. 7+/-12%) as assessed by leg extension; the authors noted that other parameters suggestive of power improvement (such as endocrine improvements or erythropoesis) did not occur and noted that replication is needed. The lack of aerobic improvement noted in this study is contrasted by another study using 2,700mg of Velvet Antler (two doses of 1,350mg daily for 10 weeks) which improved VO2 max by 9.8%, although this study had a remarkably high dropout rate of 44% which precludes conclusions that can be drawn.
A study conducted in rowers given 560mg Velvet Root for 10 weeks of training has failed to find improvements in rowing performance or other parameters of strength (bench press and leg press) in both sexes. 1350mg of Velvet Antler twice daily (daily dose of 2,700mg) for 10 weeks was noted to increase leg strength (assessed via leg press) more than placebo with no differences in the bench press; this study had a 44% dropout rate and conclusions that can be drawn are limited.
Overall, a systemic review on the topic of performance enhancement notes that the above trials are preliminary and despite some promise require further research due to variability in the observations; there is currently insufficient evidence to support Velvet Antler as an ergogenic aid.
Mixed benefits on physical performance, with the former study noting increases in power in need of replication
Skeletal Mass and Bone Metabolism
Currently, one study that induced a fracture unto a rat bone and injected 20mg/kg of Velvet Antler polypeptides into the area every other day for 7 weeks noted that fracture healing rate was dose-dependently increased at weeks 4-7 relative to control and that the bone loading weight was increased following rehabilitation with 10mg/kg (60.7%) and 20mg/kg (93% more than control) after 7 weeks. An in vitro study suggested that this was due to a concentration-dependent mitogenic activity on osteoblastic precursors and chondrocytes.
Preliminary evidence to support the notion that Velvet Antler accelerates bone healing rate, in need of replication or following oral ingestion (rather than injection)
Interactions with Hormones
1g of Velvet Antler taken daily for 12 weeks in otherwise healthy adult men has failed to significantly alter serum testosterone levels, either total or free testosterone. Another study in otherwise healthy men has also failed to find such an effect on the endocrine profile, with 11 weeks of 1.5g supplementation failing to alter serum testosterone and a lack of effects also noted after 10 weeks of 560mg in males and females who performed a consistent rowing regimen.
One study in rats investigating toxicological effects noted that 10% of the diet as Velvet Antler from the 18th day of gestation to the 88th day after birth reduced the activity of the γ-GT enzyme by 22% in male and 14% in female pups; this is mentioned as the authors suspected a possible androgenic effect (unsupported in the study).
No evidence to support the notion that Velvet Antler increases circulating serum testosterone levels
Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) is an anabolic molecule which appears to induce growth of the antlers themselves, although testosterone may be the primary growth factor. Currently, there is no evidence that serum IGF-1 is increased following Velvet Antler ingestion with one study using 1.5g of Velvet Antler for 11 weeks failing to increase serum IGF-1.
Currently no evidence to support an increase in serum IGF-1 as a result of Velvet Antler consumption
1g of Velvet Antler taken daily for 12 weeks in otherwise healthy adult men has failed to significantly alter serum luteinizing hormone (LH) more than placebo.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone
1g of Velvet Antler taken daily for 12 weeks in otherwise healthy adult men has failed to significantly alter serum follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) more than placebo.
Interactions with Aesthetics
In a study on diabetic mice given topical wounds (scalpel and scissors to create a cricle; diabetes tends to reduce wound healing rates and thus diabetic rats are a good research model for wound closure rates) where either a control cream or one containing 400mcg Velvet Antler (Elk; water soluble extract) noted that there was less angiogenesis and a trend towards less inflammation assocaited with Velvet Antler cream while on day 7 wounds treated with the Antler cream were significantly smaller than control. One 3.2kDa protein has been noted to possess wound healing properties, which are dose-dependent and have been noted to improve wound healing induced by burns at 0.05-0.1% of solution and in vitro at 10-40mcg/mL.
No human studies, but preliminary rat studies and in vitro suggest that topical Velvet Antler has skin regenerative properties and may enhance wound closure
Safety and Toxicology
An acute dose of 2,000mg/kg Deer Velvet Antler to rats (human equivalent dose of 320mg/kg) has failed to show toxic signs over 14 subsequent days of observation, and a 90 day trial with daily dosing of 1,000mg/kg did not show any significant toxicological symptoms of haemotological signs; a decrease in liver weight was noted in males, but under histological examination it appeared to be benign. Another rat toxicological study using 10% of the diet as Deer Velvet Antler during gestation and after birth noted that there were no apparent teratogenic effects on the rat pups and that serum AST (indicative of liver damage) was actually decreased 50% relative to control with no effect on γ-GT (another liver enzyme).
Does not yet appear to have any signs of toxicity, although not fully studied in this regard