USING VELVET ANTLER AS DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS – A RESEARCH SUMMARY
By Michael L. Laughlin
INTRODUCTION TO VELVET ANTLER
More than 50 million North Americans suffer from the debilitating pain of osteoarthritis and joint injuries, and many older household pets also experience joint inflammation and lack of mobility due to arthritic conditions. Ironically, most commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs actually contribute to joint degeneration, and also risk a host of other potentially dangerous side effects.
A review of literature related to the use of velvet antler products as an alternative to drugs provides compelling evidence to support the claim that compounds in antler velvet may be significantly more effective and longer-lasting than many conventional prescription and non-prescription drugs for relief of the symptoms of osteoarthritis. The literature also suggests that velvet antler may provide additional benefits such as increased vitality, enhanced cardiovascular health, improved mental health and relief of some conditions associated with aging. Other research indicates that velvet antler may assist in muscle growth and strength training. Furthermore, as a natural dietary supplement, velvet antler does not produce drug-related side effects and is therefore considered by many researchers to be safer for use than most conventional drugs.
The production of elk and deer velvet antler as a dietary supplement or medicinal substance constitutes a major industry in Asia, and the history of antler velvet use in Asian countries dates back more than 2,000 years.
In North America, domesticated North American elk constitute the primary source of velvet antler dietary supplements. Due to the size and overall quality of North American elk antler, velvet antler produced in the United States and Canada is generally considered to be a premium product in countries such as China, Japan and Korea, and a significant export market exists to support this claim.
Collection of North American elk antler is performed without endangering the host animals. Harvesting is a simple procedure performed once per year during the spring “velvet” stage of antler growth. During this period, the antlers are in a soft cartilaginous state, providing peak potency of the compounds associated with the claims made in numerous studies regarding velvet antler’s beneficial effects.
Elk antler is composed of a variety of different tissues, including cartilage, and is also rich in collagen, a crucial protein, and glycosaminoglycans. Glycosaminoglycans help form cartilage proteoglycans, which regulate water retention and cell differentiation. They also help proliferate chondrocytes in cartilaginous tissue.
Velvet antler contains nearly 40 key compounds including:
- Chondroitin sulfate, a carbohydrate that attracts fluid into proteoglycan molecules and protects cartilage from destructive enzymes
- Glucosamine sulfate, the building block of cartilage and a reported anti-inflammatory easily absorbed by the body
- Lipids, to build cells and boost energy
- Prostaglandins, powerful anti-inflammatory agents
- Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors, which enhance mood
- Selenium, which reduces infections, and protects blood cells, the heart, liver and lungs
- Calcium, for bones, teeth, nerves, blood clotting and muscle contraction
- Collagen, a major structural protein that binds joints together and serves as a main component of articular cartilage
- Phosphorus, which helps build bones and teeth, and is a key component of metabolic reaction
- Polysaccharides, which helps regulate blood clotting activity
- All essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein
- Potassium, for nerves and muscles
- Magnesium, to help cells restore and release energy
- Bone morphogenetic protein, which speeds bone growth
- Growth factors, which aid in cartilage cell development.
Although traditional Chinese medical literature dating back more than 2,000 years extols the benefits of antler velvet as a premium medicinal substance, recent studies provide compelling scientific evident supporting the use of velvet antler to relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Additional research indicates velvet antler may provide beneficial effects in several other areas including cardiovascular health, mental health and growth and strength enhancement.
JOINT AND BONE HEALTH
Osteoarthritis is caused by the loss of cartilage in bone joints. In normal joints, cartilage serves as a buffer between bones. Usually the body replenishes cartilage as it wears away, but when osteoarthritis occurs, cartilage deteriorates faster than the body can replace it. Eventually, the bones begin to rub together, causing pain, swelling and loss of joint mobility.
Most treatments for osteoarthritis attempt to reduce pain and maintain joint function, but these treatments do little to restore joint health. In fact, many prescription and over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs actually prevent the growth of collagen in joints, causing further cartilage degeneration.
These drugs can also produce other serious side effects such as deterioration of the gastrointestinal tract lining, and liver and kidney damage.
Researchers believe that the imbalance between cartilage erosion and regeneration in osteoarthritis suffers is caused by a lack of glycosaminoglycans. Glycosaminoglycans play a vital role in the structural integrity of cartilage.
Several studies indicate that velvet antler can reduce or even eliminate symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. Recent clinical tests suggest oral ingestion of glycosaminoglycan-peptide complex, or components such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate – both found in velvet antler – may help stimulate cartilage repair. Placebo-controlled double-masked studies of both humans and animals on the therapeutic effects of glycosaminoglycan-peptide complex appear to confirm these investigations. Researchers are now studying how these apparent effects occur.
Chondroitin sulfate, the most abundant glycosaminoglycan found in velvet antler, is used in surgery to stabilize tissue. Several studies on humans indicate regular oral ingestion of chondroitin sulfate can significantly reduce the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. The compound appears to inhibit enzymes that deplete cartilage nutrition. Chondroitin sulfate molecules are long chains of sugars and sulfur that create tiny spaces filled with fluid. These spaces protect and cushion joints.
Randomized studies of glucosamine indicate the compound not only inhibits cartilage degradation but also helps repair damaged cartilage. An eight-week double-blind trial of glucosamine on 40 osteoarthritis sufferers found that the compound had significantly longer-lasting benefits than the commonly prescribed pain killer ibuprofen.. Other studies indicate that the effects appear to continue as long as six to 12 weeks after subjects stop taking glucosamine.
Additional research is now under way at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta (Edmonton), Canada, to determine the efficacy of antler velvet on rheumatoid arthritis. Previous studies have already suggested that the cartilage compounds found in antler may be effective at relieving rheumatoid arthritis pain.
STRENGTH & MUSCLE GROWTH ENHANCEMENT
Elk antler grows as much as 50 pounds in less than a few months, making it the fastest-developing animal organism in the world.
This rapid development is caused by antler’s high content of bone morphogenetic proteins, which regulate bone growth, as well as growth factors I and II. These growth factors increase the rate of cell division during antler development, and may contribute to the medicinal effects of velvet antler. In addition, velvet antler contains amino acids that have been proven in studies to increase growth hormone levels in humans.
A study conducted by Suttie and Haines found that animals fed high levels of active antler velvet extract grew significantly faster and as much as 12 percent more than a control group. The animals also experienced increased liver weight and a higher bone calcium content. In addition, the researchers found that antler appeared to decrease calcium excretion. In another study by Takikawa, et al., researchers reported observing new bone formation following experimental whiplash injuries in rabbits.
Perhaps the most well-publicized study of antler’s strength and muscle-enhancing attributes involved a blind trial of New Zealand athletes. Volunteers were divided into two groups, with height, weight and age closely balanced.
The first group received 70 mg of velvet antler extract per day for 10 weeks, while a control group received a placebo. Subjects underwent moderate flex and weight training, and were tested twice during the 10-week period and once following the 10 weeks. The athletes were also scanned with a Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry Scanner (DEXA) before and after the trial to determine any changes in body composition.
The researchers found that muscular endurance doubled among the velvet antler group, tending to support the assertion of previous studies that velvet antler improves muscle activity. At the same time, the athletes taking antler lost more body fat than those in the control group, but did not increase muscle size. The researchers speculate that antler use may boost muscle efficiency without increasing in muscle mass. Results of the DEXA scans also suggested that velvet antler may improve muscle dynamic activity. The New Zealand researchers theorized that the antler extract may improve blood supply to muscles or act as an anti-inflammatory, allowing athletes to recover faster from training sessions.
Athletes from New Zealand and other countries – swimmers and mountaineers to rugby players and golfers – have used velvet antler to increase strength, vitality and endurance. Other athletes and professionals requiring strength and endurance are also using antler as a legal substitute for anabolic steroids. Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, tested antler’s ability to increase strength and endurance on cadets from the Edmonton police academy. The researchers found that use of velvet antler significantly increased blood plasma testosterone levels in the men participating in the study.
Several studies show a positive correlation between consistent use of velvet antler and cardiovascular health. Human subjects who used antler were able to endure larger work loads and experienced a shorter recovery time between exercises. One study suggested that daily use of chondroitin sulfate A – a key element of antler velvet – can reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks and stroke by more than 400 percent. Many participants with high or low blood pressure also showed changes in blood pressure toward normal.
Other studies reported an increase in heart strength and volume of blood pumped, while cardiac output, heart rate, mean arterial pressure, pulse pressure, central venous pressure and other parameters remained unchanged. Researchers suggest that the polysaccharides in antler may reduce the blood’s tendency to clot, improving circulation, decreasing stroke risk and boosting general cardiovascular health.
Russian and Japanese researchers have concentrated on an alcohol extract of antler called pantocrin or rantarin, discovering that the extract appears to lower blood pressure in both human subjects and laboratory animals.
Additional studies indicate that use of antler significantly cut the cholesterol level in laboratory animals.
Velvet antler has long been used in Asia and Russia to treat a variety of ailments and as a general tonic.
A Russian study indicated that the amino acids, polypeptides and other compounds found in antler velvet increased the survival rate of mice with cancerous tumors as much as 40 percent. In addition, a study conducted by the East-West Research Institute (Kyung Hee University, Korea) and the Korean Food and Drug Administration found that mice with tumors lost less weight and suffered lower levels of kidney damage than those treated with the frequently-prescribed anti-cancer drug cis-Platin (CDDP). Velvet antler also appeared to boost the effectiveness of CDDP when used in conjunction with the cancer drug. Those mice given a combination of antler extract and CDDP survived longer and had fewer side effects than mice given CDDP alone.
A study by Kim, et al., also noted that velvet antler appears to increase neutrophil levels in mice, which boost the body’s ability to fight injuries and disease.
A New Zealand study found compelling evidence that extracts of antler velvet stimulated the human immune system, as measured by increased white blood cell production.
Although use of the velvet antler extract pantocrin during World War II by Russian physicians provides anecdotal evidence of velvet antler’s healing powers, a more recent study by Bubenik found that antler velvet supplements helped heal epidermal wounds in rats.
Clinical studies also indicate that velvet antler functions as an antidepressant and mood regulator. A study by Chen, et al., for example, found that velvet antler inhibits monoamine oxidase activity in the liver and brain tissues of aged mice. Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors prevent breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin. Antler apparently allows these vital neurotransmitters to be available longer to the brain structure, enhancing mood.
Other studies by both Fisher and Wang indicate that antler may increase testosterone levels and can help prevent some conditions associated with aging. In addition, Russian researchers claim that compounds found in antler can ease the effects of menopause in women, and can be used as to speed recovery of surgical patients.
The history of antler velvet as a medicinal substance stretches back thousands of years. Although the most well-documented ancient uses come from China and the Far East, other cultures from Northern Europe and Northern Asia to North American and ancient Rome have also benefited from the use of antler as a tonic and for treatment of a variety of medical conditions, including:
- Joint pain
- Kidney and liver problems
- Stomach ulcers
- Low energy
Even today, antler extract compounds are listed in the pharmacopoeia of the former USSR Health Ministry as “tonic drugs.”
Velvet antler has been a staple of Traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years as a wellness tonic to strengthen bones and tendons, nourish the blood, reduce swelling and to treat impotence.
The use of antler velvet dates to the Han Dynasty 206 BC to 220 AD. for treating impotence, menoxenia, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, dizziness, insomnia, amnesia, wounds, pain and arthritis. Antler velvet is also mentioned in the chief authority on early Chinese pharmacology, the Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu. This 16th century medical classic lists a variety of antler preparations including powders, pills, extracts, tinctures and ointments. Several modern compilations of Chinese medical preparations still contain numerous antler uses.
Prior to recent times, velvet antler was offered in whole stick form. Retailers sold antler by the slice, and consumers made their own medicine at home, often mixing velvet antler with other traditional medicines. Consumers could judge the quality of the antler by the stick’s size, color, smell and general appearance.
Today the antler trade remains strong in Asia, with China producing nearly 100 tons of dried antler velvet annually. Velvet antler is also an important crop in Russia, with significant exports to Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand, however, North American elk antler is prized throughout Asia because it is considered by many to be more potent than the more commonly available deer antler.
Each part of the elk antler velvet contains different compounds with a variety of properties. However, many velvet antler manufacturers only use the lower calcified portions of the antler, which are considerably cheaper to purchase than the upper sections, but also contain significantly less cartilaginous tissue. Velvet antler processed in whole form appears to provide the widest selection of chemical compounds associated with the benefits claimed in the research cited.
Several studies indicate that heating can reduce or destroy the beneficial properties of velvet antler. Therefore, it is vital to ensure the product is not heated during processing. However, many manufacturers of low-grade velvet antler products burn the velvet portion of the antler off before processing, because it’s less labor-intensive than non-heat-producing methods. Some widely-used grinding methods may also produce heat, reducing the effectiveness of the product.
Because of its dried properties, elk antler is not prone to contaminates such as yeast, molds, chloroforms, E. coli and salmonella. However, standards outlined by the North American Elk Breeders Association, and practiced by premium processors, recommend laboratory testing to ensure sanitation of the product.
The following user experiences, although not clinically validated, provide further evidence of velvet antler’s efficacy in reducing joint pain and increasing overall vitality.
Cyle Mark is an active 13-year-old boy. He has suffered from tendonitis of his heels for over a year. Growing pains, the doctor said. Being an athlete, this condition made it extremely painful for him to run or jump. He started taking velvet in April of 1998. He has not limped since he started the capsules and has grown almost six inches. He played baseball, football and is now in basketball.
Rocky is a plumber in his mid-forties. He has severe arthritis in his hips, knees and ankles. It is almost impossible for him to work. Since starting on elk velvet, he can crawl on the ground, lay on his back, and do the necessary thinks to make a living. It has made a remarkable difference in his quality of life.
“I’ve been using velvet antler for arthritis for about one year. Before that I had taken a variety of pain relievers – often at twice the normal dosage. When I started taking velvet antler, I stopped all of that, and I haven’t taken any of it since. Prior to taking velvet antler, I’d wake up in the mornings and not have any strength in my hands at all. Now I have a lot more strength in my hands. My mother and my sisters are using it now, and my chiropractor recommends it to his patients.” – Debra Rest
“I’ve always been athletic, but due to previous injuries and – let’s face it – more than a few years of wear and tear, my knees have been really stiff. I used to run nearly every day, but recently I’ve had to turn to low-impact sports such as biking to keep fit. Over the past few months I’ve been using velvet antler, and the change has been amazing. Sure, I still bicycle, but I also run, hike, ski and participate in all the other sports that used to be such a big part of my life. Velvet antler has made a profound difference in my activity level, and I’m now recommending it to all my athletic friends who are not only looking for joint relief, but also that extra boost of vitality.” – Ken Mitchell
“We love our labs – all three of them. But at 7, our black lab was not only slowing down, she was in obvious pain. The arthritis in her legs kept her from playing with the two younger dogs, and she was just miserable.
“We started giving her velvet antler about a year ago, and the change is amazing! She rough-houses with our chocolate and yellow labs as if she were a puppy again. We’re so convinced of its power to stop arthritis pain and joint degeneration, we’ve begun to give velvet antler to our other dogs as a preventative measure.” – Charlotte Riddle
Tierra, Australian Shepherd, 11: “Her his X-rays are terrible. Almost no normal hip joints left. She has been on elk velvet for over three months and is doing great. I have noticed no side-effects to the medication.” – Tess Langham
Desi, Rhodesian Ridgeback, 10: “Desi was extremely crippled in her legs. We tried all the different arthritis medications with limited results. She has been on elk velvet for four months, and acts more like a puppy than an old dog.” – John Cottoneo
Pogo, male Dachshund, 9: “He has suffered for several years with spinal arthritis. The drugs he was on, including steroids, made little difference. I was ready to put him to sleep. Since starting him on elk velvet he is a new dog. He is happy, runs all over and barks. He certainly feels like his old self again.” – Phyllis Scoopmire
Schotzy, Doberman, 11: “She has bad hips and arthritis cervical vertebrae. She used to cry out in pain when you touched her head or neck. She has been on elk velvet for several months and is doing great. She runs and plays again, and seems pain free.” – Ardis Adams
“We’ve been testing velvet antler on more than 100 small animals with chronic arthritic problems, and the results have been impressive. In more than 80 percent of the cases, we’ve seen significant improvements in the animal’s mobility and vitality.
“We’ve had dogs come into the hospital that could hardly walk. They were in real pain. But after a couple of weeks on velvet antler, they’re wagging their tail and jumping around. I don’t know how often I’ve heard owners say their pet is acting like a puppy again.
“Unlike human test subjects, who can be influenced by psychological factors, you can’t convince an animal that he feels better. He either does or he doesn’t. With velvet antler we’ve seen dramatic improvements that can’t be dismissed. And velvet antler doesn’t create the kinds of problems we often see with traditional heavy-hitter arthritis drugs that can cause liver damage, kidney damage, bleeding ulcers and a host of other problems.
“As a practicing veterinarian, I’m always a little skeptical of overly-optimistic claims and non-traditional remedies, but velvet antler is the real thing. It’s at the top of my list when it comes to treating pets with arthritis and joint pain.” – Dr. Clinton Balok, Licensed Veterinarian, Cedar Animal Medical Center, Gallup, N.M.
Cedar Animal Medical Center Clinical Record
Dosage per Day
|Terrier mix||16||Appetite, activity||200 mg||Improved for 4 months|
|German Shepherd||8||Hip pain||200 mg||Improved|
|Mix||9||Elbows||200 mg||No change in two weeks, improvement with 400 mg|
|Dachshund||12||Hip/back||200 mg||No change|
|Blue Heeler||7||Neck, back, elbows||210 mg||Improved|
|Golden Retriever||11||Appetite, skin, low activity||200 mg||“Great” “new dog”|
|Lab||12||Hips, back||200 mg||Some improvement|
|Yazzie Eq||8||Tendons||1 gm||Improved|
|Poodle||12||Kidneys, back||200 mg||Improved|
|Basset Hound||10||Back pain||200 mg||“much better”|
There is significant credible research evidence to support the claims that use of velvet antler can enhance joint structure and function, and may provide additional benefits including increased vitality, improved cardiovascular health, mood enhancement, and as an effective strength and training aid. However, such benefits appear dependent upon the quality of antler used as well as methods employed during processing of velvet antler products.
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