Deer antler velvet supplements have been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to strengthen bones and muscles, promote blood flow, improve aging symptoms, and treat uterine fibroids, malignant sores, and mastitis (infection of breast tissue) (1).
Supplements are made from the tissue that covers the bone and cartilage that develops into deer (and elk) antlers. Antler velvet growth is a very rapid process, with the maximum rate of elongation recorded being 2.75 cm (1.08 in) per day.
Preliminary in vitro and in vivo studies show deer antlers possess a slew of benefits, including anticancer, anti-fatigue, anti-osteoporosis, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-stress, antioxidant and hypoglycemic properties.
While some of the bioactives have been identified — amino acids, polypeptides and proteins — further investigations are needed to explore these bioactive compounds and their mechanisms of action. Further safety assessments and clinical trials in humans are also needed (2).
Deer antler velvet may have cardioprotective effects. Deer antler velvet has traditionally been linked to improving cardiovascular health. To evaluate its effects in a clinical setting, researchers investigated the therapeutic benefits of supplementation on cardiac functions in rats with heart failure following myocardial infarction.
Ultrasonic echocardiography was used to examine cardiac structural and functional parameters. Results revealed that supplementation partially reversed changes in cardiac functional parameters. Further studies will help demonstrate if velvet deer antler may be an alternative and complementary medicine for the treatment of heart failure (3).
Deer antler velvet may have anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, researchers analyzed bioactive components (uronic acid, sulfated-glycosaminoglycans and sialic acid) present in velvet deer antler and assessed their anti-inflammatory effects in zebrafish as well as in vitro using cell lines.
Treatment reduced the expression of inflammatory mediators such as nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and significantly increased cell death, nitric oxide and reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels — key signaling molecules that play an important role in the progression of inflammatory disorders.
Researchers of the study concluded that supplementation could be used as a potential natural remedy with a strong anti-inflammatory effect (4).
Deer antler velvet may help treat allergies. Two mice models were recently used to evaluate the antiallergic effects of velvet antler. The results of the study showed that the levels of total Immunoglobulin E were reduced after deer antler powder was administered for 4 weeks. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) are antibodies produced by the immune system; During an allergic reaction, the immune system overreacts to an allergen by producing Immunoglobulin E. These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.
In addition, results indicated that the secretion of T helper cell 1 (Th1), regulatory T (Treg), and Th17 cytokines was significantly increased. The release of cytokines is central to almost every stage of the immune response to allergens (5).
All the features of asthma, including airway inflammation and the development of airway hyperresponsiveness, were reduced by treatment (6).
Deer antler velvet may help speed wound healing. One of the complications of diabetes is developing wounds that are slow to heal or never heal. As a result, there is an increased risk for infection. In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers tested the efficacy of velvet antler water-soluble extract on wound healing in diabetic rats.
The results were favorable and showed that topical treatment with the extract accelerated repair of wounds in diabetic rats (7).
Deer antler velvet may help heal fractures. In a study of a rat bone fracture, 20mg/kg of velvet antler polypeptides injected into the area every other day for 7 weeks resulted in an increased healing rate relative to control. The healing rate was higher (75 percent) than that of control group (25 percent).
It is believed that the polypeptides accelerated fracture healing by stimulating proliferation of chondrocytes (cells that produce all of the structural components of cartilage) and osteoblasts (large cells responsible for the synthesis and mineralization of bone during both initial bone formation and later bone remodeling) precursors (8).
Deer antler velvet may have an anti-fatigue effect. In a recent issue of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers published their findings on the ability of deer antler extract to improve fatigue. They found that the swimming times to exhaustion of mice administered deer tip antler extract (8.2 mg/day) for 28 days were apparently longer than those of the vehicle-treated mice in forced swim test.
They believe that the extract might be able to increase muscle strength and consequently exhibit an anti-fatigue effect in mice (9).
Deer antler velvet may help fight cancer. The February 2019 issue of Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry reported that antler extract possesses potent anti-prostate cancer activity. After treatment for two weeks, the extract significantly inhibited prostate cancer xenograft tumor growth by 65.08 percent as well as serum dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels — PSA is a protein produced by normal, as well as malignant cells of the prostate gland; the blood level of PSA is often elevated in men with prostate cancer (10).
In another study, oral administration of 1g/kg/day of velvet deer antler for 26 weeks, effectively reduced the severity of colon cancer. In addition, in the velvet antler treated group, none of the colon tumors involved lymph nodes. Furthermore, the higher proportion of colon tumors were of a low grade following treatment, compared with the control group (11).
Supplementation does not appear to have signs of toxicity, but studies have been limited to animal and in vitro models. More in-depth research is needed to determine if and what the side effects are in humans.
Due to a lack of human research and clinical trials, the safest and most effective dosages for the treatment of various conditions are not yet known.
Deer velvet antlers have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Supplements are made from the tissue that covers the bone and cartilage that develops into deer antlers.
In recent decades, a number of studies have found that velvet antlers have various pharmacological effects, such as anticancer, anti-fatigue, anti-osteoporosis, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-stress, antioxidant and hypoglycemic properties. These early findings are encouraging and researchers are interested in delving deeper to learn more about the mechanisms associated with these potential therapeutic benefits.
Further research will also shed light on the recommended dosages and whether there are any side effects associated with use.