Every living thing has an “owner’s guide” that is preprogrammed with instructions on how to maintain and repair it. The antlers of deer are an example of this. Deer species all have stags with antlers (female caribou or reindeer also generate them). A fawn’s antlers begin to appear around six months of age, when the buck fawn develops a pair of bumps called pedicles. According to its owner’s handbook, the process of growing and shedding antlers is controlled by internal hormones and external light.
The cycle begins in spring
The growth cycle begins in April, when the days are growing longer. The tops of the pedicles produce antlers, which double in size every four to six weeks. The buck’s body creates chemical resources that tissue cells require for growth, regeneration, and repair.
Velvet facilitates antler growth
The deer’s antlers are not yet hard bone during this early phase, but they do have a spongy feel to them. They are brimming with blood vessels and nerves while they are dynamically developing. The hooves are thick, hard, and quite durable. The outer layer is called velvet, which is covered in hair. Because the deer’s blood vessels and nerves provide growth factors and hormonal biochemicals to the velvet, removing it during this period may lead to bleeding and discomfort. Meanwhile, mineral deposits such as calcium and phosphorus accumulate and replace the spongy tissue of the antlers over time, turning them into real bone.
The growth of bone in the growing antlers begins to cut off the blood supply to the velvet as summer gives way to fall. When this process is complete, the velvet dries up and peels from the antlers. The shedding of antlers is often aided by rubbing the head and body against trees, similar to how deer groom their coats. Deer have been seen eating their shed velvet as dusk approaches. The testosterone levels in a stag rise as daylight hours decrease, signifying that breeding season has begun, which lasts until late fall or early winter.
Finally, the winter solstice marks the year’s shortest days, mating season comes to an end, and testosterone levels fall. According to its owner’s manual, the stag’s bony antlers erode at the pedicle seam. The antler loosens and falls off, leaving a bloody depression that scabs over quickly. The cycle begins again.
Is deer antler velvet good for humans?
It’s unclear when or how humans discovered that velvet is beneficial for dogs. For hundreds of years, antler velvet has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Lab research has shown that velvet includes female hormones, growth factors, amino acids, and other important molecular messengers that can regulate gene expression and promote tissue development/repair in our own time. In a nutshell, science seems to support theoretical health advantages. Velvet is especially high in insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that has anti-aging and performance-enhancing abilities but may also promote cancer development. Here’s just a sample of the many purposes for which people consume antler velvet:
- Reduce cholesterol
- Treat high blood pressure
- Prevent osteoporosis
- Strengthen the lower back and knees
- Boost the immune system
- Improve cognitive skills
- Help with sexuality and fertility
- Support women’s reproductive health
- Protect men’s erectile function
- The list goes on and on!
Does research confirm human health benefits?
There have been several animal studies that have shown improved vascular healing following cardiac events and injury prevention thanks to anti-inflammatory properties, as well as prostate cancer cell activity suppression. While this appears to be beneficial, please keep in mind the following:
- There are no Level One studies (controlled, randomized, blind) to date that suggest a reduction in physical or mental ailments. The highest level of study is known as Level One. “It’s possible that deer antler spray helps with performance and physique improvement. However, it appears that only some people respond.”
- Many users report no negative effects after 10-12 weeks of daily use.
- Many commercially available antler velvet supplements contain additional herbs or chemicals with proven health benefits, such as L-arginine, which supports blood vessel health and may have some benefit for cardiovascular and erectile performance.
- Because the digestive system breaks down antler velvet powder or pill, swallowing it as a dust or tablet has no effect. The absorption route (spray or tablet) is recommended by manufacturers where the tissues take a “shortcut” into the circulation via the mouth.
- According to a 2018 graduate college degree at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Graduate College, researchers compared blood levels of IGF-1 in participants who ingested antler velvet vs. a placebo and found no difference before and after in either group.
Law of unintended consequences?
Humans frequently capitalize on something that appears to be fantastic, but seldom consider the consequences of their actions on the origin. Ancient medical wisdom warns us: Above all, do no harm. While antler velvet usage appears to be safe for people, if deer could talk what would they say? Before the antlers are fully hardened, harvesting velvet (velveting) is done.
Velveting is the process of removing velvet antler from male deer (stags). The animal is tranquillized, restrained, and given an appropriate local anesthetic to alleviate discomfort. A rubber tourniquet is applied to the base of each antler, and the antler is removed surgically after an appropriate time delay to allow for effective anesthesia.
When deer are finished harvesting velvet, they may normally walk around freely without feeling any negative effects from the treatment. Frozen, sterilized, sliced velvet is then molded into the current available forms in the market.
I am uncertain that the stags feel no discomfort, such as pain or trauma, from velveting. In countries where deer farming is a part of agribusiness, velveting actions are controlled by legislation intended to guarantee humane treatment. Under its animal-welfare rules, the United Kingdom has banned deer antler velvet removal unless the antlers have been damaged or most of the velvet has been shed, according to a blog from renowned Andrew Weil, MD.
Consider the final consequence on deer natural genetic hardiness. Stags compete with their antlers in order to mate with does during breeding season. Only the most capable survive, as nature’s method of ensuring that their offspring are best suited to life and future procreation. A stag with no antlers still experiences a testosterone boost during mating, but he has no opportunity to demonstrate himself a competent father.
I am not advising for or against the use of deer antler velvet spray. While I find no evidence that it works, I also find no hint of danger. However, interested people should look into manufacturers and check ingredients. The high costs of the products are in part due to agricultural and velveting methods, but I notice underlying concerns that extend beyond just business.
The Latin maxim caveat emptor best captures it: Allow the buyer to assume responsibility for assessing the quality, safety, and efficacy of deer antler velvet before purchase.
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