Deer Antler Velvet supplements are gaining popularity in the natural health world, touted for their potential to boost everything from bone health to energy levels. But while advocates claim Deer Antler Velvet offers potential health benefits without hurting the animal, if you’re a discerning health supplement consumer, you may want to take a closer look.
Deer Antler Velvet has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for millennia, and limited animal studies suggest its potential to support energy, endurance, and bone health. However, many animal rights advocates have serious concerns about these supplements and the way they are sourced.
Since clinical data on Deer Antler Velvet’s health benefits is limited and inconclusive, it makes sense to research these supplements before investing in them. This article explains the controversy around Deer Antler Velvet and discusses potential health benefits to help you make an informed choice that aligns with your health goals and values.
What is Deer Antler Velvet?
Deer antler is the only mammalian organ that fully regenerates. Deer Antler Velvet is the antler during its growth cycle, before it has hardened. It is soft growing cartilage covered by velvet-like fine hair that receives blood supply and contains nerve endings.
New antlers grow quickly on male deer in the late spring or early summer, taking about a month to reach full growth. The velvet acts as a protective, sensory layer until the antler has calcified, alerting the deer when they brush up against something that could damage the growing antler and potentially cause bleeding that could be fatal to the deer.
By late summer, when blood has stopped flowing to the antler and the antler has hardened, the velvet dries out and peels off (or the deer scratches it off). Then, during the deer breeding season, male deer use their antlers for sparring with other males to determine dominance.
Once mating season is over, male deer no longer need their antlers. Shorter days and less light reduce their testosterone levels, which weakens the connection between the antler and skull. The deer then shed their heavy antlers and have more energy to find food so they can survive the winter. Come spring, the cycle repeats.
How is Deer Antler Velvet Removed? Is it Humane?
While antlers that have been shed naturally may offer some beneficial compounds, they are not commonly used for health supplements. It is believed that the highest amount of nutrients are found in antlers that are halfway through their growth phase. So, most supplements are formulated from Deer Antler Velvet that has been surgically removed from the deer.
To remove the Deer Antler Velvet, the deer is given anesthesia, a tourniquet is tied around the base of the antler, and the antler is cut off. This procedure, which takes less than 30 seconds, is known as “velveting.”
New Zealand is the primary source for Deer Antler Velvet, followed by China and Russia. Both Canada and the United States produce a small supply.
Most suppliers claim the process is painless for the animal. Ethical deer farmers hire licensed and trained veterinarians to supervise the procedure, but not all suppliers are transparent about their practices.
New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act regulates all aspects of the removal, processing, and transport of Deer Antler Velvet, and New Zealand deer farms provide a hormone-free environment where the animals can roam freely. This makes their products highly sought after, especially in Asian countries that practice traditional medicine.
But even with ethical practices, the SPCA of New Zealand opposes the removal of velvet for commercial purposes and recommends the practice be phased out. Studies have shown that antler velvet removal causes pain and distress both during and after the procedure, especially since the anesthetic used is short-lived.
The SPCA of New Zealand says the surgery, “should only be performed for therapeutic purposes for the stag, and must only be carried out by a qualified veterinarian (or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a veterinarian) to minimize any pain or distress to the animal.”REF#3403
Since 1980, Great Britain has prohibited the removal of Deer Antler Velvet from live-farmed deer, but it is the only country to have done so.
What are the Potential Health Benefits of Deer Antler Velvet?
For over two thousand years, Deer Antler Velvet has been used in Eastern medicine practices to support general health, vitality, stamina, low libido, and bone health. Traditionally, it was consumed in slices, powder form, or as a tea or tonic. Today it is more common to find it in extract or capsule form.
In more recent years, scientists have begun studying the key components in Deer Antler Velvet. To date, no human studies have demonstrated any health benefits.
Research has identified a wealth of nutrients that may prove to be therapeutically effective. It contains a diverse range of bioactive peptides and proteins, including collagen, that may affect health and vitality.REF#3404 Additionally, Deer Antler Velvet contains lipids, nucleotides, polyamines, and growth factors and is a source of hexosamine and chondroitin sulfate — compounds that may benefit joint health but have not been proven to do so.
One of the most popular claims about Deer Antler Velvet is that it builds strength and endurance, leading to its use by athletes and bodybuilders hoping to improve their athletic performance.
While one study in mice showed some potential for it to support muscle strength,REF#3405 the findings from a single human study were inconsistent.REF#3406 More studies on extraction methods and effects are needed before scientists can draw any conclusions.
Given the lack of scientific evidence, it seems logical to examine not just the potential benefits of Deer Antler Velvet, but its potential costs – to the deer, to their environment, and to the values we hold regarding the natural world.
The Potential Side Effects of Deer Antler Velvet Supplements
Should you feel compelled to try a Deer Antler Velvet supplement, be aware that it may have some adverse side effects.
Deer Antler Velvet supplements may contain insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a substance banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).REF#3407 IGF-1 has been linked to a range of side effects, especially in the elderly, including:
- Low blood sugar levels
- Fluid retention
Additionally, if the supplement was not sourced from an ethical supplier, it could contain pathogens from an unhealthy animal that could be harmful to your own health.
If you do purchase Deer Antler Velvet supplements, get them from a reputable source with transparent and ethical sourcing practices so you know exactly what is in the supplement and how it was procured.
If you’re on the fence, we believe the most humane action is to spare the deer their antlers. If significant health benefits are at some point documented in humans, you can reevaluate your decision.
In the meantime, many plant-based supplements have been proven to support stamina and energy, such as Maca Root and Cordyceps Mushroom.
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